Distribution pattern of reptiles along an eastern Himalayan elevation gradient, India
ABSTRACT We examined the spatial distribution pattern of reptiles in an eastern Himalayan elevation gradient. The factors governing the distribution have been assessed with emphasis on the mid-domain effect. We surveyed reptiles along the elevation gradient (300–4800 m) of the Teesta valley in Sikkim, Eastern Himalaya, India using time constrained visual encounter survey. A total of 42 species of reptiles were observed during the study, and the species richness peaked at 500–1000 m with no species beyond 3000 m. The observed pattern was consistent with estimated richness, both showing significant negative relation with elevation. Lizards showed a linear decline with elevation, whereas snakes followed a non-linear relation with peak at 500–1000 m. Observed species richness deviated significantly from that predicted by a mid-domain null model. The regression between empirical and simulated richness was not significant for total reptiles as well as lizards and snakes separately. Most species distributed in the high elevation extended towards lower elevation, but low elevation species (around 50%) were restricted below 1000 m. Deviation of empirical from predicted richness indicates that the distributions of reptile species were least governed by geographic hard boundaries. Climatic factors especially temperature explained much variation of reptiles along the Himalayan elevation gradient. Most reptiles were narrowly distributed, especially those found in low elevation indicating the importance of tropical low-land forests in the conservation of reptiles in Eastern Himalayas.