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Population status, threats, and conservation options of the orchid Dactylorhiza hatagirea in Indian Western Himalaya

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Dactylorhiza hatagirea (D. Don) Soo (Orchidaceae) is a critically endangered high-value medicinal plant collected from wild and extensively used against diabetes, cuts/wound healing, gastric disorders, chronic fever, seminal weakness/dysfunctions, and bone fractures. The tuber of the species yields high quality “Salep” having astringent and aphrodisiac properties, with high economic value. This results in high demand and illegal collection of the species from wild, thus making this species one of the most exploited species in the Indian Himalaya. The populations of D. hatagirea are restricted to small isolated pockets and are subject to destructive harvesting, therefore, need urgent in situ as well as ex situ conservation interventions. In view of this, the present study is an attempt to understand population status, its distribution, threats, and vulnerability of the species. A total of 14 sites in different habitat types along the altitudinal gradient (2500–4500 m) were selected for intensive field study in the Indian Western Himalaya. The results of the study reveal that D. hatagirea prefers moist laden undulating habitats in alpine meadows. The population density of the species ranges between 0.70 and 2.43 individuals/m2 in alpine meadows of the studied sites. Population density and species abundance increased significantly along the altitude within its range of occurrence. The relationship between altitude and total density was curvilinear and significant (r2=0.666, p<0.002), whereas non-linear and non-significant (r2=0.224, p>0.247) between slope and total density. The results of the study also indicate that the vegetation in alpine ecosystem were more diverse in species composition at mid-altitudes (3400 to 3700 m) than high altitudes. Destructive harvesting of underground tuber and irregular grazing were observed as critical threats to the species. D. hatagirea share habitats with few expanding species (i.e., Polygonum polystachyum) and highly traded species (i.e., Ophiocordyceps sinensis) in the alpine meadows, which affects its population density. The study concluded that short life cycle, poor seed germination rate, specific microhabitat requirement, low population density, and high commercial value limit the widespread distribution of the species in the region. The findings of the study suggest an urgent need for developing conservation and management plan for the species in the region for sustaining traditional health care system and pharmaceutical demand.

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The authors are thankful to the Director, G. B. Pant National Institute of Himalayan Environment, Kosi-Katarmal, Almora, for encouragement and providing necessary facilities. We are highly thankful to Dr. Shashi Upadhyay for input in statistical analysis. Ms. Nidhi Kanwar, Senior Research Fellow, Center for Environment Assessment and Climate Change, is acknowledged for preparation of the study area map.


Partial financial support from Department of Biotechnology, Govt. of India (R&D grant no. BT/Env./BC/01/2010 dated 23.03.2012), National Mission for Sustaining the Himalayan Ecosystem, Task Force-3 “Forest Resources and Plant Biodiversity” [DST/SPLICE/CCP/NMSHE/TF/GBPIHED/2014 (G) dated 2/0914], and Uttarakhand Council for Science and Technology, Dehradun (R&D grant no. UCS&T/R&D-05/19-20/17531), is gratefully acknowledged.

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Correspondence to Indra D. Bhatt.

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Singh, L., Bhatt, I.D., Negi, V.S. et al. Population status, threats, and conservation options of the orchid Dactylorhiza hatagirea in Indian Western Himalaya. Reg Environ Change 21, 40 (2021).

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