High Altitude Wetlands of Nepal
High altitude wetlands (HAWs) have been described as “areas of swamp, marsh, meadow, fen, peat land, or water located at an altitude above 3,000 m, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish, or saline and are generally located at altitude between continuous natural forest border and the permanent snow.” HAWs include different categories of water bodies, such as lakes, ponds, rivers, glaciers, and glacial lakes. They are characterized by a unique diversity of water sources, habitats, species, and communities and generally have not been subjected to rampant human interference compared to other wetland ecosystems. Most of the HAWs in South Asia, including Nepal, lie within the Hindu Kush Himalayan Region that extends over 3,500 km and covers approximately 3.5 million km2, acting as a fresh water reservoir to the major river basins such as the Ganges, Indus, Yangtze, Mekong, Amu Darya, and Hilmand. Of the nine wetlands that have been declared as Wetlands of International Importance in Nepal, four are HAWs located in the Palearctic biogeographic region in central Himalaya. There are numerous other HAWs distributed across Nepal, including many smaller HAWs, either within or outside protected areas, that bear ecological, economic, and cultural significance; however, many of these have yet to be inventoried. Fragility and sensitiveness are the main characteristics of HAWs and any small change in the water chemistry, either naturally or through anthropogenic disturbances, could lead to large impacts on their ecosystems, directly affecting their flora and fauna. Three common pressures on all HAWs of Nepal are grazing; over extraction of fuelwood, timber, and nontimber forest products; and pollution. Acid deposition during the spring season is a major threat to most of the HAWs in Nepal. Conservation effort targeting both Ramsar and Non-Ramsar HAWs is urgently needed to minimize ongoing anthropogenic pressures and preserve existing rare and endangered flora and fauna species found in such fragile wetland ecosystems.
KeywordsHigh altitude wetlands Biodiversity Ecosystem service Conservation threat Ramsar Nepal
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