The Paropamisus xeric woodlands is an ecoregion situated in the north of Afghanistan and spans a land area of 35,800 square miles. This palearctic ecoregion is classified within the Deserts and Xeric Shrublands biome. There is a single instance of vertebrate endemism within this arid palearctic ecoregion, although there are numerous threatened mammalian and avian species, as well as one special status reptile.
Location and general description
The arid ecoregion known as the Paropamisus xeric woodlands lies in the far north of Afghanistan in a rugged remote region of the Earth. Although there is an appreciable fraction of the ecoregion that is covered in sparse low canopy woodland, south of Fayzabad the landscape is dominated by deserts and xeric scrub. Common top canopy vegetation includes thornbush, Zizyphus, Acacia, and Amygdatus. Paropamisus xeric woodlands can be found in the extreme northeast of the ecoregion (e.g. Badakhshan Province). Common vegetation of the ecoregion includes almond, pistachio, willow, and certain buckthorn taxa.
There are a total of 247 vertebrate species recorded in the Paropamisus xeric woodlands ecoregion. No endemic vertebrates occur in this ecoregion of Afghanistan. There is a single threatened native non-endemic reptile found in this ecoregion: the Vulnerable Afghan tortoise (Testudo horsfieldii)
|The Near Threatened mountain weasel. Source: Karunakar Rayker|
|Sabzak Pass, northeast of Heart, Afghanistan. Photograph by Jerry Hassinger|
Native mammals in the Paropamisus xeric woodlands ecoregion that have special status are: the Near Threatened argali (Ovis ammon), the Vulnerable Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetanus), the Near Threatened Euphrates jerboa (Allactaga euphratica), the Near Threatened European otter (Lutra lutra), the Vulnerable goitered gazelle (Gazella subgutturosa), the Endangered kulan (Equus hemionis), the Near Threatened leopard (Panthera pardus), the Vulnerable marbled polecat (Vormela peregusna), the Near Threatened mountain weasel (Mustela altaica), the Near Threatened sand cat (Felis margarita), the Near Threatened Schreiber's long-fingered bat (Miniopterus schreibersii), the Endangered snow leopard (Panthera uncia), the Near Threatened striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena) and the Endangered white-bellied musk deer (Moschus leucogaster).
Native non-endemic birds in the ecoregion which are assigned special status are:
- the Near Threatened cinereous vulture (Aegypius monachus);
- the Endangered Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus);,
- the Near Threatened European roller (Coracias garrulus)/
- the vulnerable great bustard (Otis tarda);
- the Vulnerable imperial eagle (Aquila heliaca);
- the Near Threatened laggar falcon (Falco jugger);
- the vulnerable llesser kestrel (Falco naumanni); and,
- the Vulnerable pale-backed pigeon (Columba eversmanni).
Paropamisus xeric woodlands.
Human habitation is known to have been present in the more fertile valleys of present day Afghanistan at least 50,000 years before present, with some sedentary agriculture among the earliest on Earth. Relicts of the Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze and Iron ages have been found in these meadows and valleys. In the beginning of the first millennium BC, trade began to become more regular along the Northern Silk Road, bringing regular contact between the Greek and Pesian civilizations in the west and China in the east, this region of Afghanistan being a stopover. By around 550 BC, Achaemenid Persians overran the Medes civilization, annexing most of Afghanistan (Arachosia, Aria and Bactria). The tombstone of Darius I of Persia cites the Persian victories nearby by place name.
Alexander the Great led the Macedonian forces into the Afghanistan region circa 330 BC, subsequent to their defeat of Darius III of Persia at the Battle of Gaugamela. After the Macedonians ceded the entire Afghanistan region south of the Hindu Kush to the Mauryans of India, those Indian settlers eventually were overthrown, leading to Greek reconquest of the region by the Greco-Bactrians.
The conservation status of the Paropamisus xeric woodlands is classifed as Vulnerable; moreover, the World Wildlife Fund has categorised this ecoregion as G200 status, meaning it is considered of the highest priorities worldwide for conservation.
Types and severity of threats
Overgrazing of livestock is a threat to disruption of the natural environment of the Paropamisus xeric woodlands. Protection of the region's biota is impeded by over a half century of warfare, including tribal conflict, Soviet invasion and Taliban terrorist training; however, this part of Afghanistan has not suffered as greatly from conflicts in recent times as other parts of the country.
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