Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 20, Issue 6, pp 1319–1338 | Cite as

The subnival–nival vascular plant species of Iran: a unique high-mountain flora and its threat from climate warming

  • Jalil NorooziEmail author
  • Harald Pauli
  • Georg Grabherr
  • Siegmar-W. Breckle
Original Paper


This study provides a first country-wide overview of the vertical distribution patterns and the chorology of vascular plant species that occur in the uppermost elevation zones in Iran. The current distribution patterns are discussed with respect to potential warming-induced species losses. Iran’s subnival and nival vegetation zones are found at elevations above 3600–3900 m in a highly fragmented distribution across Alborz, Zagros, and NW-Iran. Based on literature research and on field observations, all vascular plant species living in the subnival–nival zone of Iranian mountains were identified (151 species) and classified into three altitudinal groups: Group A comprises species that occur mainly in subnival–nival habitats (51 species). Group B are species being common in subnival–nival areas but are equally present in the alpine zone (56 species). Group C are species that can reach to subnival areas but also grow in alpine, subalpine and sometimes lower altitudes (44 species). The chorological patterns differ among the three groups. The percentage of species being endemic to Iran decreases from group A, to B and C, with 68, 53 and 20%, respectively. A narrow altitudinal distribution at high elevations is clearly related to a small-scaled geographical distribution range. The outstanding rate of high-altitude endemism appears to result mainly from orographic isolation of the country’s highly scattered cold areas and by the absence of extensive Pleistocene glaciations. The narrow distribution of most of Iran’s cold-adapted mountain flora and the low potential of alternative cold habitats render it highly vulnerable to climate change.


Altitudinal distribution Climate change Endemism High mountains Phytogeography Subnival–nival zone Vascular plants 



Parts of traveling and subsistence costs for this study were funded by the GLORIA co-ordination (University of Vienna and Austrian Academy of Sciences/Institute of Mountain research), the association GLORIA-International, Vienna and the Austrian Federal Ministry of Science and Research. We would like to thank Yousef Ajani for his assistance during fieldwork and Iris Wagner for her help in drawing the distribution maps.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jalil Noroozi
    • 1
    Email author
  • Harald Pauli
    • 2
  • Georg Grabherr
    • 1
  • Siegmar-W. Breckle
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Conservation Biology, Vegetation and Landscape EcologyUniversity of ViennaViennaAustria
  2. 2.Institute of Mountain Research (IGF) of the Austrian Academy of SciencesC/O University of ViennaViennaAustria
  3. 3.Department of EcologyUniversity of BielefeldBielefeldGermany

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