Tibetan Plateau is most of the Tibet autonomous region, the Qinghai Province in China, and Ladakh in Kashmir, Pakistan.
It has an area of around 1,000 by 2,500 km with an average elevation of over 4,500 meters, which makes it the highest plateau of the world.
Size1,565,000 sq km (604,000 sq miles)
Habitat TypeMontane Grasslands and Shrublands
Geographic LocationCentral Asia, north and west of the Himalayas: Afghanistan, China, India, Pakistan, and Tajikistan
FloraMountain slopes support mainly unstable, excessively drained shallow to moderately deep gravelly, loamy soils on bedrock and are subject to severe sheet, rill, and gully erosion. The mean annual precipitation varies in the ecoregion but ranges from 200 to 900 mm, 90 percent in the form of snow (Shengji 1996; IUCN 1993).
Within this broad mountain ecosystem, small distances result in large changes based on altitude, aspect, geology, and soils, giving rise to a wide variety of microclimates and biodiversity. The predominant vegetation is characterized by sparse grasslands and herbaceous vegetation on mountainous slopes. In the highest elevations, above 4,500 m, the vegetation thins out.
Shrublands and patchy forests are found in the valley bottoms. The primary plant species include Hippophae rhamnoides, Myricaria elegans, Salix viminalis, Capparis spinosa, Tribulus terrestris, Pegamum harmala, Sophora alopecuroides, and Lyciumruthenicum. A steppe juniper forest, once common to most of central Asia, remains in relict populations on cliffs and sloped land. These forest fragments are dominated by Juniperus macropoda and J. indica (IUCN 1993).
The unique microclimatic features and harsh climatic conditions force plants to adapt to survive. This gives rise to numerous endemic plant species. In Pakistan, an estimated sixty-six plant species are endemic to the Kashmir region, and montane plant species make up 90 percent of Pakistan's endemic flora (Ali 1978).
FaunaThe expanses are well suited to fleet footed mammals that graze large areas, which are abundant in some places and reduced in others, either as a result of hunting or competition with domestic livestock.
Ungulates are the most diverse set of species in this region and include the Marco Polo sheep (Ovis ammon poli), the largest of its genus.Species include Tibetan antelope (Pantholops hodgsoni), Tibetan wild ass (Equus hemionus), wild yak (Bos grunniens), Tibetan argali (Ovis ammon hodgsoni),Blue sheep (Pseudoisnayyur), Himalayan ibex (Capra ibex sibirica), Markhor (Capra falconeri), Urial (Ovis orientalis), and white-lipped deer (Cervus albirostris). Predators include the snow leopard (Unciauncia) and Tibetan sand fox (Vulpes ferrilata). Other species, such as the Tibetan wolf (Canislupis), Lynx (Felis lynx) and the Himalayan brown bear (Ursusarctos) are considered threatened.
Most of the species found in this ecoregion are wide-ranging species found throughout most of the high mountains or Tibetan Plateau of the Karakoram, Hindu-Kush, and Himalayas. However, flared horn markhor (Capra f. falconeri) and woolly flying squirrel are endemic to the region, found at middle and higher elevations in sparse Pine and conifer forests. Snow leopard is the icon and flagship species usually found at higher alpine pastures adjacent to snow line whereas, Brown bear can beseen in the lower elevations.
The Hume's ground jay (Pseudopodoces humili) is one of many characteristic bird species. Large raptors such as Gyps himalayansis and lammergeier or bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) also occur in the mountainous parts of the Tibetan Plateau.
Conservation StatusThis global ecoregion has other terrestrial eco regions including Yarlung Zambo arid steppe; Tibetan Plateau alpine shrub and meadows; Southeast Tibet shrub and meadows; Central Tibetan Plateau alpine steppe; Karakoram-West Tibetan Plateau alpine steppe.
The Tibetan Plateau steppe has the most pristine mountain grassland in Eurasia. This ecoregion has an average elevation of almost 15,000 feet and is the meeting point for landscapes and species from Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.
From here, several major rivers (including the Yangtze, Mekong, and Indus) begin their long journeys to the sea.
ThreatsDespite low population density, hunting threatens many species of mammals (especially the argali and the Tibetan antelope, which are being slaughtered at an unsustainable rate for their high-quality wool) and large birds.
Trophy hunting for markhor, ibex, snow leopard, and game birds (such as falcons) is prevalent in this ecoregion and has decimated their populations. Ibex and snow leopard face extinction in this ecoregion because of hunting pressures. There is a demand from the Chinese medicinal trade for snow leopard bones to use as substitutes for tiger bone (Liao and Tan 1988). Snow leopard fur has been commonly used for coats, and furs have been seen on sale throughout China and Taiwan (Low 1991; Jackson 1992; Fox 1994).
Livestock rely on rangelands for forage, and overgrazing of natural vegetation is common. Domestic grazing competes directly with native ungulates for precious resources, and grazing is a greater threat than hunting to this ecoregion's native species. In elevations up to about 1,500 m, the pastures are grazed throughout the entire year. The higher elevations, between 1,500 and 3,300 m, are grazed only in the summer.
What WWF is doing?Saving Wetlands Sky High Programme focuses on high altitude wetlands ecosystems and their associated biodiversity in Tibetan Plateau and Himalayan ecoregions.
WWF-China programme focuses on climate change and Tibetan plateau ecosystems. WWF-Pakistan also working in conservation and management of fragile mountain ecosystems and their associated biodiversity and climate risk reduction in Karakoram, Hindukush and Western Himalayan mountain areas of Pakistan.