Rhododendron diversity along the Kusong-Panch Pokhari transect in Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve, the eastern Himalaya: a conservation perspective

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Prem K. Chettri
Bijoy Chhetri
Hemant K. Badola


Sikkim Himalaya, India is part of one of the richest global biodiversity hotspots, exhibiting a significant amount of native flora including Rhododendron (Ericaceae) species, which are particularly well represented with 37 species, 11 subspecies, seven varieties and two natural hybrids occurring along the rolling mountains between 1,500m to 6,000m.  Most of the habitats of rhododendrons in Sikkim Himalaya have not only been threatened by climate change but also by emerging eco-tourism and economic activities vis-à-vis trekking corridors.  In recent decades, it has been observed that the climate-governed phenology of rhododendrons of eastern Himalaya is shifting; further the urbanization, tourism influx, and clearances for the footpaths have adversely impacted the diversity of many forest areas.  To better understand the effects of trekking corridors on Rhododendron species for the tourist destinations, we performed a pilot survey along the Kusong-Panch Pokhari transect in relatively virgin forest of the northern part of Sikkim to assess the status of both Rhododendron diversity and potential environmental management strategies that can be employed within the transect as a new tourist destination in the Sikkim Himalaya.  Along with this transect, we recorded 23 Rhododendron species, with five eastern Himalayan endemics.  Our results indicate that the diversity of rhododendrons seem good along the Kusong-Panch Pokhari transect and we further recommend it could be a new potential eco-tourism destination as an alternative income generating source for the local people, provided that appropriate conservation management strategies are in place.


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