Registan-North Pakistan sandy desert

Content Cover Image

Scene in the Registan-North Pakistan sandy desert. Source: WWF

The Registan-North Pakistan sandy desert is an ecoregion spanning southern Afghanistan; the extreme eastern portion of Iran; part of northwest Pakistan, covering a total land area of approximately 107,100 square miles. This ecoregion is classifed within the Deserts and Xeric Shrublands biome.

There is considerable vertebrate species richness within the Registan-North Pakistan sandy desert, although endemism among this group is only represented by five reptilian taxa.

Location and general description

Situated in the southernmost portion fo Afghanistan, the far east of Iran and along part of the northwest Pakistan border area, this ecoregion is an arid element of the palearctic landscape. The Khash Desert is a major feature ot the ecoregion.

The Registan-North Pakistan sandy desert includes:

  • Zohary’s Iranian steppes of Artemisietea herbae-albae iranica east of the Kuh-e Gamsidzai and the Kuh-e Palangan; and

  • The sandy desert and thorn scrub forest of the Thar-Indus bioregion in Pakistan.

Biodiversity features

The vertebrate species richness of this ecoregion is much greater than most of the counterpart arid elements of this geographic region, amounting to an occurrence of 391 distinct taxa.

Endemic reptiles of the Registan-North Pakistan sandy desert are: the Afghan toadhead agama (Phrynocephalus clarkorum), De Witte's gecko (Agamura misonnei), point-snouted racerunner (Eremias acutirostris), dark head dwarf-racer (Eirenis mcmahoni) and Scapteira acutirostris.

caption Vulnerable marbled polecat. Source: Laszlo Szabo-Szeley Native special status non-endemic mammals found in this ecoregion are: the Near Threatened argali (Ovis ammon), the Vulnerable Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetanus), the Vulnerable cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), the Near threatened European otter (Lutra lutra), the Vulnerable goitered gazelle (Gazella subguttarosa), the Vulnerable marbled polecat (vormela peregusna), the Endangered markhor (Capra falconeri), the Near Threatened sand cat (Felis margarita), the Near Threatened Schreiber's long-fingered bat (Miniopterus schreibersii), the Near Threatened striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena) and the Endangered white-headed duck (Oxyura leucocephala).

Native special status non-endemic reptiles of the Registan-North Pakistan sandy desert ecoregion are: the Vulnerable Afghan tortoise (Testudo horsfieldii) and the Vulnerable Mediterranean spur-thighed tortoise (Testudo graeca).

Native special status non-endemic birds found in this ecoregion are: the Near Threatened black-tailed godwit (Limosa limosa), the Near Threatened cinereous vulture (Aegypius monachus), the Vulnerable Dalmatian pelican (Pelecanus crispus), the Endangered Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus), the Near Threatened European roller (Coracias garrulus), the Near Threatened ferruginous pochard (Aythya nyroca), the Vulnerable great bustard (Otis tarda), the Vulnerable greater spotted eagle (Aquila clanga), the Vulnerable imperial eagle (Aquila heliaca), the Near Threatened laggar falcon (Falco jugger), the Near Threatened leopard (Panthera pardus), the Vulnerable lesser kestrel (Falco naumanni), the Vulnerable marbled teal (Marmamoretta angustirostris), the Vulnerable pale-backed pigeon (Columba eversmanni), the Near Threatened pallid harrier (Circus macrouris), the Vulnerable saker falcon (Falco cherrug) and the Critically Endangered white-rumped vulture (Gyps bengalensis).

Ancient history

caption Mede and Persian soldiers, Apadana Palace. Human habitation is known to have been present in the more fertile valleys of present day central Afghanistan at least 50,000 years before present, with some of the earliest sedentary agriculture on Earth. Relicts of the Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze and Iron ages have been found in these steppes and valleys. Urban civilization in the region is noted as early as 3000 BC, at a locus at the ancient city of Mundigak. 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 Persian civilizations in the west and China in the east, this part 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 established Buddhism and reigned south of the Hindu Kush until about 185 BC,  at which time they were overthrown, leading to Greek reconquest of the region by the Greco-Bactrians.

Current status

The conservation status of the Registan-North Pakistan sandy desert is classified as Vulnerable. The ecoregion is designated by the code PA1326 according to World Wildlife Fund categorization.

Types and severity of threats

Threats to the biota of this ecoregion include overgrazing, warfare and water extraction from the mostly ephemeral streams of the region. While warfare has subsided, until there is more stable peace in the region, military conflict and terrorism are continuing threats to the natural environment.

Justification of ecoregion delineation

caption Nimruz, Afghanistan Photograph by Jerry Hassinger

Ecoregion boundaries were defined using using Zohary’s (1973) geobotanical map of the Middle East. They include Zohary’s Iranian steppes of Artemisietea herbae-albae iranica east of the Kuh-e Gamsidzai and the Kuh-e Palangan. In Afghanistan, the semi-desert communities dominated by Calligonum-Aristida Haloxylon salicornicum and other chernopods from Freitag’s (1971) natural vegetation map were used for map lines. In Pakistan, this ecoregion corresponds to the sandy desert and thorn scrub forest of the Thar-Indus bioregion in Mackinnon’s (1997) original vegetation map of the Indo-Malayan biogeographic realm. 


  • Freitag, H. 1971. Studies in the natural vegetation of Afghanistan. Pages 89-106 in P. H. Davis, Harper, and I. C. Hedge, editors. Plant life of South-West Asia. The Botanical Society of Edinburgh, Edinburgh.
  • Mackinnon, J., M. Sha, C. Cheung, G. Carey, Z. Xiang, and D. Melville. 1996. A biodiversity review of China. World Wide Fund for Nature, Hong Kong.
  • C.Michael Hogan. 2007. Silk Road, North China. ed.A.Burnham. Megalithic Portal
  • William Maley. 2009. The Afghanistan wars. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-230-21313-5.
  • Newsday. October 2001. Taliban massacres outlined for UN. Chicago Tribune.
  • United Nations Environment Programme. 2008. Biodiversity profile of Afghanistan. Kabul, Afghanistan
  • World Wildlife Fund. 2010. Registan-North Pakistan sandy desert
  • Zohary, M. 1973. Geobotanical foundations of the Middle East, volume1,2. Gustav Fischer Verlag, Stuttgart, Germany.


Hogan, C., & Fund, W. (2014). Registan-North Pakistan sandy desert. Retrieved from


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