Status and Trends of Biodiversity
Much of the information on Afghanistan’s biodiversity is old and no longer reliable. Little significant information has been added since the onset of war in 1978. The few recent investigations have suggested that Afghanistan’s biodiversity has suffered enormously in the last three decades.
Afghanistan is comprised of 8 unique bio-geographical Provinces of which 7 belong to the Palaearctic Realm. Only a small area in the lower Kabul River Valley is of Indo-Malayan origin. A recent classification breaks Afghanistan down into 15 smaller eco-regions of which four are considered as critical/endangered, 8 as vulnerable and only two as relatively stable and intact.
The species composition of all eco-regions has been significantly reduced through a combination of overgrazing, fuel collection and exploitation of large herbivorous animals. Analysis of recorded species records shows that are there are 118 – 147 species of mammals, 472 – 510 birds, 92 – 112 reptiles, 6 – 8 amphibians, 101 – 139 fish, 245 butterflies, and 3500 – 4000 vascular plant species native to Afghanistan. The range in numbers results from uncertainty in taxonomy and the questionable validity of some records. A total of 39 species and 8 subspecies appear on the IUCN Red List as being globally threatened with extinction. No formal assessment has been made of species at risk at the national scale, but numerous species, particularly large mammals, are certainly at risk of extinction within Afghanistan. Only 7 vertebrate species are known to be endemic to Afghanistan, but estimates for endemic plant species range from 20 – 30%. Afghanistan is an arid country and the few wetlands that do exist are therefore of great significance to biodiversity.
Afghanistan was one of the most significant centres for the origin and development of humanity’s crop plants. Consequently, there are numerous local landraces of wheat and other crops in use by Afghan farmers. Nine local breeds of sheep are found in Afghanistan along with 8 breeds of cattle and 7 of goats.
Number and Extent of Protected Areas
The World Database of Protected Areas (UNEP-WCMC 2006) lists 15 protected areas in Afghanistan. Seven were provided with formal recognition by the Government of Afghanistan in the 1970s and are recognized by IUCN (one Category II national park and 6 Category IV wildlife or waterfowl reserves). However, none are officially recognized by the current government (as they were never formally gazetted), none have official boundaries and none are managed as protected areas.
Percentage of Forest Cover
Deciduous and evergreen true forests are limited to the monsoon-influenced eastern part of the country and once comprised about 5% of Afghanistan’s surface area. Recent analyses suggest that only 5% of these original forests may still exist. Open woodlands dominated by pistachio and juniper once comprised about 38% of Afghanistan. Satellite image analysis of selected areas in 2002 found that tree density was too low to be detected anywhere suggesting that this once widespread ecosystem is on the verge of extinction in Afghanistan. The vast areas of sub alpine vegetation was probably originally steppe grassland but is now almost entirely comprised of grazing-resistant cushion shrub land.