Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 493–521 | Cite as

Biodiversity and phytogeography of the alpine flora of Iran

  • Jalil Noroozi
  • Hossein AkhaniEmail author
  • Siegmar-W. Breckle
Original Paper


Iran is a mountainous country. Zagros and Alborz mountains reach altitudes of more than 4,000 m. Alpine regions are above timber-line, which is not easy to recognize, since aridity is prominent in most regions. The alpine zone in Alborz lies between 3,000 and 4,000 m, the nival zone is above 4,000 m, locally varying by some hundred meters. A first evaluation of vascular flora shows that 682 species belonging to 193 genera and 39 families are known from the alpine zone of Iran. The alpine zone is commonly characterized by many species of hemicryptophytes and thorny cushions. Species numbers decline very strongly with increasing altitude. In this paper biogeographical patterns of the alpine flora of Iran have been discussed and distribution maps of 44 species are illustrated. New data indicate a transitional situation of the Iranian mountains between Anatolia/Caucasus and the Hindu Kush, but with a strong own element with high endemism and remarkable relict species. Ca. 58% of the alpine flora of Iran are endemic and subendemic. The Zagros Mountains harbor high endemism which justify considering this area as a separate floristic province. Based on the evaluation of published data from 682 known alpine species ca. 160 species have been known only by one record, 110 species by 2–3 records and 87 endemic species have been known only based on the type location. These plants need a strong conservation and protection management since the fragile ecosystems are often very restricted, small and very isolated, nonetheless grazing and overgrazing are still common threats.


Alborz Biodiversity Chorology Conservation Endemics Iran alpine flora Phytogeography Zagros 



This paper was supported partly by the research projects “Geobotanical studies in different parts of Iran I-III” (No. 6104037/1/01), Research Council University of Tehran and Center of International Research and Collaboration (ISMO) for the first and second authors. Parts of this paper have been presented as a poster during XVII International Botanical Congress (Vienna, 2005). Dr. Sh. Zarre, University of Tehran, is acknowledged for the kind permission to use his data on genus Astragalus. A Schimper-Fellowhip (1977 for last author) for studies in the Turan Area and the Northern mountains is greatly acknowledged, as well as a DAAD fellowship for Pamir-Excursion (2002) and grants from the Ministry of Environment, Tajikistan.


  1. Agakhanjanz O, Breckle S-W (1995) Origin and evolution of the mountain flora in middle and central Asia. In: Chapin III FS, Körner C (eds) Arctic and alpine biodiversity: patterns, causes and ecosystem consequences. Ecol Studies 113:63–80Google Scholar
  2. Agakhanjanz O, Breckle S-W (2002) Plant biodiversity and endemism in high mountains of Central Asia, the Caucasus and Siberia. Mountain biodiversity – a global assessment. Parthenon Publ. Chapter 9, pp 117–127Google Scholar
  3. Ahmadov KM, Breckle S-W, Breckle U (2006) Effects of grazing on biodiversity, productivity, and soil erosion of alpine pastures in Tajik Mountains. In: Spehn E, Körner C, Liberman M (eds) Land use change and mountain biodiversity. CRC Taylor & Francis, Boca Raton, pp 239–247Google Scholar
  4. Akhani H (1998) Plant biodiversity of Golestan National Park. Stapfia 53:1–411Google Scholar
  5. Akhani H (1999) Studies on the flora and vegetation of the Golestan National Park, NE Iran. III. Three new species, one new subspecies and fifteen new records for Iran. Edinb J Bot 56:1–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Akhani H (2004a) Halophytic vegetation of Iran: towards a syntaxonomical classification. Ann Bot (Rome) 4:65–82Google Scholar
  7. Akhani H (2004b) A new spiny, cushion-like Euphorbia (Euphorbiaceae) from south-west Iran with special reference to the phytogeographic importance of local endemic species. Bot J Linn Soc 146:107–121CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Akhani H (2005) The illustrated flora of Golestan National Park, Iran, vol 1. Tehran University PublicationsGoogle Scholar
  9. Akhani H (2006) Flora Iranica: facts and figures and a list of publications by K. H. Rechinger on Iran and adjacent areas. Rostaniha 7(suppl. 2):19–61Google Scholar
  10. Akhani H (2007) Diversity, biogeography and photosynthetic pathways of Argusia and Heliotropium (Boraginaceae) in South-West Asia with an analysis of phytogeographical units. Bot J Linn Soc 154 (in press)Google Scholar
  11. Alavi M (1996) Tectonostratigraphic synthesis and structural style of the Alborz Mountain system in Northern Iran. J Geodynam 21:1–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Alex M (1985) Klimadaten ausgewählter Stationen des Vorderen Orients. Beihefte zum Tübinger Atlas des Vorderen Orients. Reihe A, Nr. 14. Dr. Ludwig Reichert Verlag, WiesbadenGoogle Scholar
  13. Berberian M, King GCP (1981) Towards a paleogeography and tectonic evolution of Iran. Can J Earth Sci 18:210–265Google Scholar
  14. Bobek H (1937) Die Rolle der Eiszeit in Nordwestiran. Zeitschr Gletscherk 25:130–183Google Scholar
  15. Bobek H (1952) Beiträge zur Klima-Ökologischen Gliederung Irans. Erdkunde 4:65–84Google Scholar
  16. Bobek H (1953) Zur eiszeitlichen Vergletscherung des Alborzgebirges, Nordiran. Carinthia 2:97–104Google Scholar
  17. Bor NL (1970) Gramineae. In: Rechinger KH (ed) Flora Iranica, No. 70. Akademische Druck u. Verlagsanstalt, GrazGoogle Scholar
  18. Breckle S-W (1971) Vegetation in alpine regions of Afghanistan. In: Davis PH et al (eds) Plant life of South-West Asia. Proceedings of the symposium Edinburgh, 1970, pp 107–116Google Scholar
  19. Breckle S-W (1974) Notes on Alpine and Nival Flora of the Hindu Kush, East Afghanistan. Bot Notiser (Lund) 127:278–284Google Scholar
  20. Breckle S-W (1975) Ökologische Beobachtungen oberhalb der Waldgrenze des Safed Koh (Ost-Afghanistan). Vegetatio (Acta Geobot) 30:89–97CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Breckle S-W (1983) Temperate deserts and semideserts of Afghanistan and Iran. In: West NE (ed) Temperate deserts and semideserts. Ecosystems of the world (Goodall DW), vol 5. Elsevier, Amsterdam, pp 271–319Google Scholar
  22. Breckle S-W (2002) Walter’s vegetation of the earth. The ecological systems of the geo-biosphere. Springer, Heidelberg, p 527Google Scholar
  23. Breckle S-W (2004) Flora, vegetation und Ökologie der alpin-nivalen Stufe des Hindukusch (Afghanistan). In: Breckle S-W, Schweizer B, Fangmeier A (eds) Proceed. 2nd symposium AFW Schimper-Foundation: results of worldwide ecological studies. Stuttgart-Hohenheim, p 97Google Scholar
  24. Breckle S-W, Wucherer W (2006) Vegetation of the Pamir (Tajikistan): land use and desertification problems. In: Spehn E, Körner C, Liberman M (eds) Land use change and mountain biodiversity. CRC Taylor & Francis, Boca Raton, pp 225–237Google Scholar
  25. Browicz K (1984) Chorology of trees and shrubs in South-west Asia and adjacent regions, vol 3. Polish Scientific Publishers, PoznańGoogle Scholar
  26. Browicz K (1988) Chorology of trees and shrubs in South-west Asia and adjacent regions, vol 6. Polish Scientific Publishers, PoznańGoogle Scholar
  27. Buhse F (1899a) Flora des Alburs und der Kaspischen Südküste. Bisherige Forschungsergebnisse aus diesem Gebiet. Arbeiten des Naturforscher-Vereins zu Riga. Neue Folge. 8. Heft. WF Häcker, RigaGoogle Scholar
  28. Buhse F (1899b) Reisebemerkungen aus dem östlichen Albursgebirge in Persien. Bull Soc Imper Natur Moscou 34:363–383Google Scholar
  29. Bunge A (1860) Die Russische Expedition nach Chorassan in den Jahren 1858 und 1859. Petermanns Geogr Mitt 6:205–226Google Scholar
  30. Davis PH (ed) (1965–1988) Flora of Turkey and the East Aegean Islands, vols 1–10. Edinburgh University Press, EdinburghGoogle Scholar
  31. Eggli U (1988) A monographic study of the genus Rosularia (Crassulaceae). Supplement to Bradleya 6, p 119Google Scholar
  32. Ehlers E (1980) Iran: Grundzüge einer geographischen Landeskunde. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, DarmstadtGoogle Scholar
  33. Ferrigno JG (1991) Glaciers of the Middle East and Africa – glaciers of Iran. In: Williams RS, Ferrigno JG (eds) Satellite image atlas of glaciers of the world. U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1386-G. United States Government Printing Office, Washington, pp 31–47Google Scholar
  34. Fischer MA (1981) Veronica (52–165) [Scrophulariaceae I]. In: Rechinger KH (ed) Flora Iranica, No. 147. Akademische Druck u. Verlagsanstalt, GrazGoogle Scholar
  35. Freitag H (1975) The genus Piptatherum (Gramineae) in Southwest Asia. Notes Roy Bot Gard Edinb 33:314–408Google Scholar
  36. Freitag H (1985) The genus Stipa (Gramineae) in Southwest Asia and South Asia. Notes Roy Bot Gard Edinb 42:355–489Google Scholar
  37. Freitag H, Özhatay E (1997) A new subspecies of Salsola canescens (Chenopodiaceae) from SW Anatolia, Turkey. Willdenowia 27:185–190Google Scholar
  38. Gams H (1956) Die Tragacantha-Igelheiden der Gebirge um das Kaspische, Schwarze und Mittelländische Meer. Veröff Geobot Inst Rübel 31:217–243Google Scholar
  39. Gilli A (1939) Die Pflanzengesellschaften der Hochregion des Elbursgebirges in Nordiran, Beih. Bot Cbl 59:317–344Google Scholar
  40. Gilli A (1941) Ein Beitrag zur Flora des Elburs-Gebirges in Nord-Iran. Feddes Repert Spec Regni Veg 50:263–283Google Scholar
  41. Grabherr G, Gottfried M, Pauli H (1994) Climate effects on mountain plants. Nature 369:448CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Grossheim AA (1967) Flora Kavkaza (Flora of Caucasus), vol 7. Nauk, LeningradGoogle Scholar
  43. Hager J (1984) Pflanzenökologische Untersuchungen in den subalpinen Dornpolsterfluren Kretas. Dissertation Univ. Bielefeld (Dissertationes Botanicae 89), p 196Google Scholar
  44. Hager J, Breckle S-W (1985) Mikroklima der subalpinen Dornpolsterstufe Kretas. Verh Ges Ökol 13:671–676Google Scholar
  45. Hedge IC (1968) Didymophysa [Cruciferae]. In: Rechinger KH (ed) Flora Iranica, No. 57. Akademische Druck u. Verlagsanstalt, Graz, pp 97–98Google Scholar
  46. Hedge IC (1969) Elbursia: a new genus of Cruciferae from Iran. Notes Roy Bot Gard Edinb 29:181–184Google Scholar
  47. Hedge IC, Wendelbo P (1978) Patterns of distribution and endemism in Iran. Notes Roy Bot Gard Edinb 36:441–464Google Scholar
  48. Hyam R, Jury SL (1990) A review of the genus Graellsia Boiss. including Draba L. section Helicodraba Schultz (Brassicaceae). Bot J Linn Soc 102:9–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Jacquemoud F (1984) Etude du genre Anchonium DC. (Cruciferae). Candollea 39:715–769Google Scholar
  50. Khalili A (1973) Precipitation patterns of Central Elburz. Arch Met Geoph Biokl Ser B 21:215–232CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Khassanov F, Noroozi J, Akhani H (2006) Two new species of the genus Allium (Alliaceae) from Iran. Rostaniha 7(Suppl. 2):119–129Google Scholar
  52. Klein JC (1982) Les groupements chionophiles de l’Alborz central (Iran) Comparaison avec leurs homologues d’ Asie centrale. Phytocoenologia 10(4):463–486Google Scholar
  53. Klein JC (1984) Les groupements végétaux d’altitude de l’Alborz central (Iran). – Ecologie des milieux montagnards et de haute altitude. Documents d’Ecologie Pyrénéenne 3–5:199–204Google Scholar
  54. Klein JC (1987) Les Pelouses xérophiles d’altitude du franc sud de l’Alborz central (Iran). Phytocoenologia 15(2):253–280Google Scholar
  55. Klein JC (1988) Les groupements à grandes ombellifères et à xérophytes orophiles: Essai de synthèse à l’échelle de la région irano-touranienne. Phytocoenologia 16(1):1–36Google Scholar
  56. Klein JC (1991) Endemisme à l’etage alpin de l’Alborz (Iran). Flora et Vegetatio Mundi 9:247–261Google Scholar
  57. Klein JC (2001) La végétation altitudinale de l’Alborz central (Iran). Institut Français de Recherche en Iran (Téhéran). 2ème éditionGoogle Scholar
  58. Klein JC, Lacoste A (1994) Les pelouses subalpines (Alchemilletum plicatissimae ass.nov.) de l’Alborz central (Iran): ultime avancée sud-orientale de l’aire des Festuco-Brometea Br.-Bl. et Tx. 1943. Phytocoenologia 24:401–421Google Scholar
  59. Klein JC, Lacoste A (1996) Aperçu synthétique sur l’etagement de végétation dans l’Alborz central (Iran). Ann Naturhist Mus Wien 98:67–74Google Scholar
  60. Klein JC, Lacoste A (1998) L`étagement de végétation dans le massif de l`Alborz central (Iran): essai de comparison avec celui du systéme alpin et des montagnes méditerranéennes. Ecologie 29(1/2):181–186Google Scholar
  61. Körner C (1999) Alpine plant life. Functional plant ecology of high mountain ecosystems. Springer-Verlag, Berlin, HeidelbergGoogle Scholar
  62. Kotschy T (1861a) Die Vegetation des westlichen Elbrus in Nordpersien. Österr Bot Zeitschr 11(4):105–117CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Kotschy T (1861b) Der westliche Elbrus bei Teheran. Mitt. der K. K. Oester Geogr Gesell Wien 5:65–110Google Scholar
  64. Krinsley DB (1970) A geomorphological and palaeoclimatological study of the Playas of Iran. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  65. Kürschner H (1986) The subalpine thorn-cushion formation of western South-West Asia: ecology, structure and zonation. Proc Royal Soc Edinb 89B:169–179Google Scholar
  66. Maassoumi AA (2005) The genus Astragalus in Iran, vol 5. Research Institute of Forests and Rangelands, Technical Publication No. 362, TehranGoogle Scholar
  67. Mahdavi P (2007) Phytosociological study of montane and submontae zones of Tuchal Mountains, N. Tehran. M.Sc. Thesis, University of TehranGoogle Scholar
  68. Meusel H, Jäger E, Weinert E (1964) Vergleichende Chorologie der zentraleuropäischen Flora Band I. Fischer, JenaGoogle Scholar
  69. Meusel H, Jäger E, Rauschert S et al (1978) Vergleichende Chorologie der zentraleuropäischen Flora, Band II. Fischer, JenaGoogle Scholar
  70. Meusel H, Jäger E, Bräutigam S et al (1992) Vergleichende Chorologie der zentraleuropäischen Flora, Band III. Fischer, JenaGoogle Scholar
  71. Mozaffarian V (1988) New species and new plant records from Iran. Iranian J Bot 4:61–70Google Scholar
  72. Mozaffarian V (1991) New species and new plant records from Iran. Iranian J Bot 5(1):29–39Google Scholar
  73. Morton A (2001) DMAP for Windows. Distribution map software. 7.1 BerkshireGoogle Scholar
  74. Noroozi J (2005) Phytosociological study of Alpine zone of Tuchal Mountains, N. Tehran. M.Sc. Thesis, University of Tehran, 135 ppGoogle Scholar
  75. Noroozi J, Akhani H. The alpine plant diversity and vegetation of Tuchal Mountains (N. Tehran, Iran). In: Proceedings of Stelvio Seventy Conference (in press)Google Scholar
  76. Parolly G (1998) Phytosociological studies on high mountain plant communities of the South Anatolian Taurus mountains 1. Scree plant communities (Heldreichietea): A synopsis. Phyocoenologia 28(2):233–284Google Scholar
  77. Pauli H, Gottfried M, Dirnbock T et al (2003) Assessing the long-term dynamics of endemic plants at summit habitats. In: Nagy L, Grabherr G, Körner C et al (eds) Alpine biodiversity in Europe – a Europe-wide assessment of biological richness and change. Ecological Studies, vol 167. Springer, pp 195–207Google Scholar
  78. Pauli H, Gottfried M, Reiter K et al (2007) Signals of range expansions and contractions of vascular plants in the high Alps: observations (1994–2004) at the GLORIA* master site Schrankogel, Tyrol, Austria. Global Change Biol 13:147–156CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Rauh W (1939) Über polsterförmigen Wuchs. Ein Beitrag zur Kenntnis der Wuchsformen der Höheren Pflanzen. Nova Acta Leopold ser 2. 7:267–508Google Scholar
  80. Rechinger KH (ed) (1963–2005) Flora Iranica, No. 1-176. Akad. Druck-u. Verlagsanstalt, GrazGoogle Scholar
  81. Rechinger KH (1984) Podolotus [Papilionaceae II]. In: Rechinger KH (ed) Flora Iranica No. 157. Akademische Druck u. Verlagsanstalt, Graz, pp 346–348Google Scholar
  82. Rechinger KH (1987) Cousinia: morphology, taxonomy, distribution and phytogeographical implications. Proc Roy Soc Edinb 89B:45–58Google Scholar
  83. Rechinger KH (1988) Stellaria [Caryophyllaceae II]. In: Rechinger KH (ed) Flora Iranica, No. 163. Akademische Druck u. Verlagsanstalt, Graz, pp 60–76Google Scholar
  84. Rechinger KH (1992) Paraquilegia [Ranunculaceae]. In: Rechinger KH (ed) Flora Iranica, No. 171. Akademische Druck u. Verlagsanstalt, Graz, pp 5–10Google Scholar
  85. Schickhoff U (2005) The upper timberline in the Himalayas, Hindu Kush and Karakorum: a review of geographical and ecological aspects. In: Broll G, Beate K (eds) Mountain ecosystems studies in treeline ecology. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg, pp 275–354Google Scholar
  86. Schiman-Czeika H (1969) Potentilla (Rosaceae I), In: Rechinger KH (ed) Flora Iranica, No. 66. Akademische Druck u. Verlagsanstalt, Graz, pp 78–111Google Scholar
  87. Stöcklin J (1974) Northern Iran: «Alborz Mountains. Mesozoic-Cenozoic Orogenic Belts. Data for Orogenic Studies». Geol Soc Lond Spec Publ 4:213–234CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Takhtajan A (1986) Floristic regions of the world. University of California Press, California (English translation from Russian)Google Scholar
  89. Theurillat J-P, Guisan A (2001) Potential impacts of climate change on vegetation in the European Alps: a review. Climatic Change 50:77–109CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Townsend CC, Guest E, Al-Rawi A (eds) (1966–1985) Flora of Iraq, vols 1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 9. Ministry of Agriculture & Agrarian Reform, BaghdadGoogle Scholar
  91. Vetaas OR, Grytnes JA (2002) Distribution of vascular plant species richness and endemic richness along the Himalayan elevation gradient in Nepal. Global Ecol Biogeogr 11:291–301CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Zarre-Mobarakeh S (2000) Systematic revision of Astragalus sect. Adiaspastus, sect. Macrophyllium and sect. Pterophorus (Fabaceae). Englera 18:1–219Google Scholar
  93. Zarrinpour V (2002) The vegetation of Tehran (Arade mountains, Pardisan Nature Park, Kuy-e Nasr, Evin and Tuchal), with respect to human impact and artificial plantation on plant diversity. M.Sc. Thesis, University of Tehran, 169 ppGoogle Scholar
  94. Zohary M (1973) Geobotanical foundations of the Middle East, vol 2, Fischer, StuttgartGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jalil Noroozi
    • 1
  • Hossein Akhani
    • 1
    Email author
  • Siegmar-W. Breckle
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Plant Sciences, School of BiologyUniversity of TehranTehranIran
  2. 2.Department of EcologyUniversity of BielefeldBielefeldGermany

Personalised recommendations