The juniper tree has up to 200 metres depth of root system.
It is an important tree and can only grow profusely in certain locations. The above image is of a reserve located in Pakistan.
“Inclusion of Juniper Forest of Ziarat in the World Network of Biosphere Reserve is yet another step towards recognition of Pakistan’s natural sites of international significance on global level, which is a matter of great honour and pride”, says Mr. Mahmood Akhtar Cheema, Country Representative, IUCN Pakistan.
The process for designating the Ziarat Juniper Forests as a Biosphere Reserve was initiated by IUCN Pakistan in 2010 under its UNDP funded project titled: Mainstreaming Biodiversity Conservation into the Juniper Forest Ecosystem Production in collaboration with the Balochistan Forest and Wildlife Department with UNESCO Pakistan’s financial support under One UN Programme. To meet the criteria, a management plan was formulated and approved by the Government of Balochistan. Consultations were also held with all the stakeholders, local communities and other relevant government departments for which the Additional Chief Secretary (Dev), the Secretary Forests and the Conservator Wildlife, Government of Balochistan played an active role.”
The biosphere reserve is home to the largest area of juniper forest (juniperus excelsa polycarpus) in Pakistan, covering about 110 000 ha. It is believed that the forest is the second largest of its kind in the world. The juniper tree species found there are of global significance because of their advanced age and slow growth rate. In fact, the junipers of Ziarat are among the oldest living trees in the world. Although no dendrological study has yet been conducted, according to one estimate the age of a mature tree can exceed 1 500 years. Local people refer to the trees as ‘living fossils’ and this remarkable longevity allows research into past weather conditions in the region, making the species of special significance for climate change and ecological studies.
The juniper forest ecosystem of Ziarat provides a habitat for endangered wildlife species and supports a rich diversity of plant species. Because of its rich biodiversity the different areas of the ecosystem have been assigned the status of protected areas, including wildlife sanctuaries and game reserves. The mountain ranges, including Khalifat mountain, consist of a core habitat reportedly hosting several globally important wild species, among them Suleman Markhor, Urial, black bears and wolves. The forests also serve as a habitat for a number of other species: Afghan Pica, foxes, jackals and several species of migratory birds. However, various anthropological factors such as illegal hunting, human habitations and livestock grazing have encroached on the wildlife habitats leading to their fragmentation.
Balancing ecosystems is a natural process over time, if we exclude the interference of insensitive human activity.
Vegetation and soils are the foundation upon which all terrestrial ecosystems are built. Soils provide the medium for the storage and delivery of water and nutrients to plants, which in turn provide animal populations with both habitat and food.
Where constructive monitoring of soil health is carried out, land can be protected from harmful human practices, often linked to agriculture.
Juniper trees have been known to live for 1300 years.
Researchers have been studying them because of their importance and concern of threats to their existence.
“Abstract and Figures
The study analyses physiogeographical factors of the Zeravshan Range as a basis for environmental and habitat diversity. They provided the background for considering conditions for the functioning of juniper forest ecosystems and their role in maintaining biodiversity especially of of endemic species. The uniqueness of these ecosystems also relies on the longevity of juniper (Juniperus seravschanica Kom., J. semiglobosa Regel and J. turkestanica Kom.). These trees can live 400-600 years, or even 1300 years, and therefore are very important species in dendroindication studies. Landscapes with juniper forests are diverse in terms of species composition, which is conditioned by aspect and relief as species show different habitat requirements. On the individual Pamir-Alay and western Tian-Shan ridges juniper is an important mountain forest-forming species. Physiognomic features of the landscape are conditioned by the habitat, climate, landforms, and recently also by anthropopressure. Juniper forests play an important ecological, landscape and economic roles: they increase water resources, prevent soil erosion as well as provide a source of good quality building material and firewood. They fulfill also a very important cultural role. The ecological, environmental and the cultural importance of juniper trees makes them a distinctive and determinant feature of the landscape. Currently juniper forests across Tajikistan, including those in the Zeravshan Mts, have been significantly disrupted as a result of chaotic, uncontrolled and excessive felling. Damage done by cattle grazingintensifies erosion, especially through sheet-wash. These unfavorable processes may also lead to the disappearance of unique forms of cultural behavior of the people of Tajikistan., Junipers are at the core of national, religious and ethnic identity.”
Illegal felling of these ancient trees is widespread. Motivation to commit illegal acts is usually tied to exploitative schemes.
There are many tragic examples such as those who felled the ancient alligator juniper trees in New Mexico:
Once they are gone, they are gone. Their splendid presence is torn from the earth and with them goes the perfect ecosystem and balance we should all bow down and be thankful for……But humans continue with perverse schemes to destroy what took centuries to grow.