The Lichenologist

Research Article

The elevation gradient of lichen species richness in Nepal

Chitra Bahadur BANIYAa1 p1, Torstein SOLHØYa1, Yngvar GAUSLAAa2 and Michael W. PALMERa3

a1 Department of Biology, University of Bergen, Allégaten 41, P.O. Box 7803, N-5020 Bergen, Norway. Email:

a2 Department of Ecology and Natural Resource Management, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, P.O. Box 5003, NO-1432 Ås, Norway.

a3 Department of Botany, Oklahoma State University, 104 LSE Stillwater OK 74078 USA 405-744-7717.


This study of elevation gradients of lichen species richness in Nepal aimed to compare distribution patterns of different life-forms, substratum affinities, photobiont types, and Nepalese endemism. Distribution patterns of lichens were compared with elevational patterns shown by a wide range of taxonomic groups of plants along the Nepalese Himalayan elevational gradient between 200–7400m. We used published data on the elevation records of 525 Nepalese lichen species to interpolate presence between the maximum and minimum recorded elevations, thereby giving estimates of lichen species richness at each 100-m elevational band. The observed patterns were compared with previously published patterns for other taxonomic groups. The total number of lichens as well as the number of endemic species (55 spp.) showed humped relationships with elevation. Their highest richness was observed between 3100–3400 and 4000–4100m, respectively. Almost 33% of the total lichens and 53% of the endemic species occurred above the treeline (>4300m). Non-endemic richness had the same response as the total richness. All growth forms showed a unimodal relationship of richness with elevation, with crustose lichens having a peak at higher elevations (4100–4200m) than fruticose and foliose lichens. Algal and cyanobacterial lichen richness, as well as corticolous lichen richness, all exhibited unimodal patterns, whereas saxicolous and terricolous lichen richness exhibited slightly bimodal relationships with elevation. The highest lichen richness at mid altitudes concurred with the highest diversity of ecological niches in terms of spatial heterogeneity in rainfall, temperature, cloud formation, as well as high phorophyte abundance and diversity implying large variation in bark roughness, moisture retention capacity, and pH. The slightly bimodal distributions of saxicolous and terricolous lichens were depressed at the elevational maximum of corticolous lichens.

(Accepted March 28 2009)


p1 Central Department of Botany, Tribhuvan University Kirtipur, Kathmandu, Nepal.