Alpine herbfield

မြင့်မားသော တောင်ပေါ်ဒေသရှိ ဘယဆေးခင်းများ

Extinction Risk

National IUCN statusEN

Climate and ecology





Functional Group

Temperate alpine meadows and shrublands


Alpine herbfield is one of the rarest ecosystems in Myanmar, occurring from c. 3,500-4,200 m in steep mountainous areas of Kachin State, where snow persists into the growing season (i.e. April- May). This ecosystem is of outstanding integrity and represents some of the only undisturbed or lightly disturbed alpine vegetation of this size in the Himalaya (UNESCO, 2014).The flora is of Sino- Himalayan origin, and is comprised of herbaceous plants, which form alpine meadows interspersed with patches of matted Rhododendron and other prostrate Ericaceae (e.g. Cassiope)


This ecosystem occurs below the permanent snowline in the high-altitude areas of northern Myanmar and adjacent countries.


Native biota


Alpine herbfield can be found at 3,500 m and above. Characteristic herbaceous plants in this ecosystem include numerous species of Primula, such as P. serratifolia, P. capitata, P. triloba, P. dickieana, P. chamaethauma, and P. fea as well as Omphalogramma souliei (Primulaceae), various gentian species, including Gentiana wardii and Gentiana sino-ornata (Gentianaceae), Cremanthodium, Lactuca, the woolly Saussurea gossypiphora (Asteraceae) and Eriophyton wallichii (Lamiaceae), Cyananthus (Campanulaceae), Polygonum griffithii (Polygonaceae), Saxifraga (Saxifragaceae), Corydalis cashmeriana, the endemic blue poppy Meconopsis violacea and other Meconopsis species (Papaveraceae), Pedicularis species including the endemic Pedicularis nana (Orobanchaceae), Astragalus (Fabaceae), Ranunculus, Caltha paulustris (Ranunculaceae), Cyprepedium tibeticum (Orchidaceae), Iris (Iridaceae), bulbous species of Fritillaria, Nomocharis souliei, Gagea (Liliaceae) and Allium (Amaryllidaceae), as well as numerous grass (Poaceae) rush (Luzula, Juncaceae) and sedge (Carex, Cyperaceae) species. The shrubs that occur here are dwarf forms including numerous species of Rhododendron, such as R. anthopogon, R. repens, R. campylogynum and the two endemic species R. crebreflorum and R. riparium (Ericaceae). Thin mats of dwarf Rubus and Potentilla fruticosa (Rosaceae), Cassiope and Diplarche (Ericaceae) also occur in the upper ecotone.

Abiotic environment

Mean temperature

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Low temperatures throughout the year and high rates of precipitation. The duration of snow persistence constrains a very short growing season, and is likely a key environmental determinant of the distribution of this ecosystem, in which there is limited incursion of most plant species that occur at lower elevations.

Key processes and interactions

Temperature limitations (Williams et al., 2015) and variation in the persistence of snow throughout the year are key factors that influence the processes and interactions in this ecosystem. Variation in moisture as a result of variation in snow persistence influences the distribution of plant species, as well as the level of shrub encroachment from adjacent shrubby ecosystem types. Thick snow drifts can also generate a sheer force which may cause local disturbances to this ecosystem, resulting in land slips, loss of vegetation and substantial soil movement (Williams et al., 2015).

Major threat

Major threat

Alpine herbfields are visited each summer by local people from Myanmar and surrounding countries, and are often used for grazing Yaks. They come to harvest a variety of medicinal plants as well as Cordyceps (shi ba di) for traditional use and sale. Many species are hunted during this time for food while searching for medicine. Alpine ecosystems are thought to be particularly sensitive to climate change, because the fine-scale distribution of plant species is frequently related directly to climate or climate-influenced factors (Pickering et al., 2008), and a warming climate may increase the rates of encroachment by plant species from surrounding ecosystems (Williams et al., 2015). Upward migration has been observed in many Himalayan species (Telwala et al., 2013; Padma, 2014; Dolezal et al., 2016). However, there is high uncertainty about many important factors in the Himalaya that are likely to be influencing this ecosystem, including the distribution of precipitation, and snow and ice melt (Bolch et al., 2012).

Instruction: The visualization shows threats that are present within each ecosystem. According to IUCN, direct threats are the proximate human activities or processes that have impacted, are impacting, or may impact the the status of the taxon being assessed. Click of the highlighted icons to see details each threat category.

Ecosystem Assessment

Assessment Summary

This ecosystem is highly restricted to the mountainous northern region and tends to occur where snow persists well into the growing season. Although data searches highlighted a paucity of knowledge about change in key components of this ecosystem, our remote sensing data was sufficient to assess Criterion B. The ecosystem is so restricted and is considered to be threatened over the next twenty years that it qualifies for listing under Criterion B1. Endangered.

Instruction: Click on the chart to view the detailed assessment result for each RLE risk criteria. Risk is defined as the probability of an adverse outcome over a specified time-frame. Here, the adverse outcome is the endpoint of ecosystem decline, which the RLE terms ecosystem collapse.

Ecosystem collapse definition

This ecosystem is considered to have collapsed when its distribution declines to 0 km2 (Criterion A). In addition, following Williams et al (2010) this ecosystem is considered collapsed when the 10- year running mean depth of snow is zero, indicating no persistent snow cover at any time of year (Criterion C) or when woody shrub invasion results in shrub dominance and transition to an alpine shrubland ecosystem type (Criterion D).

Date Assessed


Year published


Assessed by

Hedley Grantham,Nicholas Murray

Reviewed by

David Keith

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