Ramsar international wetlands of Alagol, Almagol and Ajigol in eastern parts of the Caspian Sea: a floristic and habitat survey

Document Type: Research Paper

Authors

1 Department of Biology, Faculty of Basic Sciences, University of Mazandaran, Babolsar, Iran

2 Research Division of Natural Resources, Golestan Agricultural and Natural Resources Research and Education Center, AREEO, Gorgan, Iran

Abstract

Ramsar international wetlands of Alagol, Almagol and Ajigol with a surface of 3027 ha are located in the vast Turkmen-Sahra plains (Golestan prov.) in east of Caspian Sea and in the vicinity of the Iran-Turkmenistan political border. Flora, vegetation and habitat diversity of the wetlands were surveyed during growing seasons of 2014 and 2015. A total of 159 plant taxa belonging to 123 genera and 42 families were determined in the studied wetlands. Asteraceae, Amaranthaceae (including Chenopodiaceae) and Poaceae were the most species rich families and Suaeda, Salsola, Atriplex, Plantago and Tamarix were the most species rich genera. A floristic analysis indicated that therophytes and pluriregional elements predominated life form and chorological spectra, respectively. Studied sites were physiognomically classified into aquatic, emergent, and dry upland habitats which represent 6, 68 and 26 percent of all plant taxa, respectively. Halophytic species constitute a large part of flora, among them Puccinellia poecilantha recently recorded in the area is considered as a rare plant. The results may be applied in designing conservation areas and developing conservation strategies for this unique wetland ecosystem.

Keywords


Ramsar international wetlands of Alagol, Almagol and Ajigol in eastern parts of the Caspian Sea: A floristic and habitat survey

Hamedani H.1, Naqinezhad A.1*, FadaieF.2

 

1. Department of Biology, Faculty of Basic Sciences, University of Mazandaran, Babolsar, Iran

2. Research Division of Natural Resources, Golestan Agricultural and Natural Resources Research and Education Center, AREEO, Gorgan, Iran

 

* Corresponding author: a.naqinezhad@umz.ac.ir

(Received: Apr. 20. 2017 Accepted: Sep. 03. 2017)

ABSTRACT

Ramsar international wetlands of Alagol, Almagol and Ajigol with a surface of 3027 ha are located in the vast Turkmen-Sahra plains (Golestan prov.) in east of Caspian Sea and in the vicinity of the Iran-Turkmenistan political border. Flora, vegetation and habitat diversity of the wetlands were surveyed during growing seasons of 2014 and 2015. A total of 159 plant taxa belonging to 123 genera and 42 families were determined in the studied wetlands. Asteraceae, Amaranthaceae (including Chenopodiaceae) and Poaceae were the most species rich families and Suaeda, Salsola, Atriplex, Plantago and Tamarix were the most species rich genera. A floristic analysis indicated that therophytes and pluriregional elements predominated life form and chorological spectra, respectively. Studied sites were physiognomically classified into aquatic, emergent, and dry upland habitats which represent 6, 68 and 26 percent of all plant taxa, respectively. Halophytic species constitute a large part of flora, among them Puccinellia poecilantha recently recorded in the area is considered as a rare plant. The results may be applied in designing conservation areas and developing conservation strategies for this unique wetland ecosystem.

Key words: Flora, Golestan, Habitat diversity, Ramsar wetlands, Salt marsh.


INTRODUCTION

Wetlands are one of the most sensitive ecosystems in the world with remarkable biodiversity (Hammer 1996). They are considered important ecosystems playing as “the kidneys of the landscape” and “biological supermarkets” (Cronk & Fennessy 2001; Mitch & Gosselink 2015). However, they are disappearing at an alarming rate due to climate change and the human economic utility. The most significant wetland alteration is particularly dredging, filling, drainage, hydrologic modification, peat mining and water pollution (Behruzi Rad 2010; Mitch & Gosselink 2015). This threatening alarm would be particularly dangerous for arid/semi-arid regions with continuous declining of underground water resources. Iran with possessing 24 Ramsar International Wetlands (Behruzi Rad 1999; Ramsar 2016) shows a tragedy example in the Middle East. Many of the wetland sites even with considerable surface have become dried or nearly so in the recent decades. Hoor-Alazim, Dasht-Arjan, Parishan, Gavkhooni and Jazmorian are some affected wetlands.  Knowledge on flora and vegetation of each region is pre-requisite bases for the biological protection, natural resources management, ecological potential, conservation of rare and endemic plants and finally for restoration studies (Singh & Rawat 1999; Jafari & Akhani 2008; Noori et al. 2017). The results of such studies are essential for ecology, biogeography and evolutionary investigations (Khodadadi et al. 2009; Ravanbakhsh et al. 2013). Alagol, Almagol and Ajigol wetland complex is one of 24 Ramsar wetland sites in NE of Iran which is categorized as seasonal saline wetlands (Ramsar 2016). Jalili et al. (2014) provided a full list of publication related to wetland flora and vegetation of Iran. Most of the previous investigations were devoted to flora and vegetation in different international wetland ecosystems of Iran such as Amirkelayeh, Anzali, Fereydoonkenar and Miankaleh. Among the most relevant investigation on afro-mentioned wetland complex and similar ecosystems are conducted by Karimi (2010) and Ghorbanli et al. (2013) on flora and vegetation of Gomishan international wetland and its habitat conditions using satellite imagery. Moreover, Tavan et al. (2010) studied on floristic composition and plant species richness of plains and hills at Agh-Ghala rangelands in the Golestan province. An analysis and evaluation of land use changes in Alagol, Almagol and Ajigol was carried out by Ghorbani et al. (2012). Flora and vegetation of Soofikam and Inchehboroon areas were studied by Ghorbanli et al. (2011) and Bakhshi et al. (2011). Moreover, some studies have been conducted on saline/semi-saline wetlands of Iran (Asri & Ghorbanli 1997; Asri 1998; Ejtehadi et al. 2003; Asri et al. 2002, 2007; Dolatkhahi & Yousofi 2009; Dolatkhahi et al. 2011; Rabie & Asri 2014; Akhani 2015). The current paper aims (1) to present characteristics of flora and habitats of international wetland complex in eastern coastal region of the Caspian Sea and its surrounding environments, (2) to provide detailed information on life forms and chorology of plants for whole wetlands and for each habitat separately and (3) to compare floristic results of the studied wetlands with those already published elsewhere. Results of the current study are particularly important for making appropriate conservational decision for these fragile wetland ecosystems.

MATERIALS AND METHODS

Studied areas

International wetlands of Alagol, Almagol and Ajigol (37º 20' N to 37º 25' N and 54º 35' to 54º 40' E) are located in the Turkmen-Sahra plain near to the border of Iran and Turkmenistan and on western parts of Inchehboroon area (Golestan prov.) (Fig. 1) (Kiabi et al. 1999; Mohandesin Sabzandish Payesh 2008). These wetlands in their highest water content, with 3027 ha (Alagol with 2500 ha, Almagol with 207 ha and Ajigol with 320 ha) has been considered as a refugee for migratory birds and their breeding. They were registered under a wetland complex site in the framework of the international Convention of Ramsar in 1975 (Bagherzadeh Karimi & Ruhani Rankuhi 2007). The study wetlands and all surrounding environment are physiognomically grouped under “herbaceous and semi-woody salt swamps” in the vegetation map proposed by Frey & Kürschner (1989).  Limestone, schist and sands are the main components of soil deposits which were remained after sea retreats in the coastal places (Ghorbani et al. 2012). Based on the recent bioclimatic classification of Iran, the area is classified within “Mediterranean xeric continental” bioclimate (Djamali et al. 2011). The latter bioclimate is characterized with high continentality (Ic > 21), low precipitation during growing season or months with mean temperature > 0°C and long dry season lasting six months. Based on the climatic diagram of the nearest station (Agh-Ghala), much precipitation occurs within November to April with dry period of May to October. The annual precipitation and mean annual temperature is 412.5 mm and 19.1ºC, respectively (Fig. 2).

Data collection and analysis

A floristic and vegetation survey was carried out during growing seasons of 2014 and 2015 using the topographic maps and the local guides. Whereas most annual and some perennial species cover predominantly in the spring time, halophytic annual and perennial taxa were collected in autumn time. We used 115 plots of 25m2 (drylands and marginal parts) and 1m2 (open lakes) to record vegetation and floristic composition. Plants were determined using Flora Iranica (Rechinger 1963-2010), Flora of Iran (Assadi et al. 1988-2011), Flora of Turkey (Davis 1965-1988), Flora of USSR (Komarov 1934-1954) and Color Flora of Iran (Ghahreman 1975-2005). Plant taxa were classified based on APG III (2009) and the scientific names of the taxa were checked using the plant list website (http://www.theplantlist.org/). Raunkiaer life form system was used for determination of the life form of the plants (Raunkiaer 1934). General distribution of each taxon in the afro-mentioned literatures was used to indicate its chorotype sensu   Zohary (1973), Takhtajan (1986) and Léonard (1989). We classified all habitats of the area physiognomically based on dominant and co-dominant species. All materials studied here were deposited in the herbarium of Mazandaran University (HUMZ) and herbarium of Golestan Agricultural and Natural Resources Research and Education Center.

 

 

Fig. 1. The position of three International wetlands of Alagol, Almagol and Ajigol in East of the Caspian Sea.

 

Fig. 2. The climatic diagram of Agh-Ghala station (1984-2015).

 

 

RESULTS

A total of 159 taxa belonging to 123 genera and 42 families of vascular plants were determined in the studied area. 27 genera (22%) and 32 species (20%) were monocotyledons and 96 genera (78%) and 127 species (80%) were dicotyledons (Table 1). Asteraceae (28 taxa, 18%), Amaranthaceae (including Chenopodiaceae) (24 taxa, 15%) and Poaceae (21 taxa, 13%) were the most species rich families in the area. Considering the number of genera in the families, Asteraceae (23), Poaceae (16), Amaranthaceae (12), Brassicaceae (9), Fabaceae (5), Apiaceae, Boraginaceae and Papaveraceae (each with 4) were the richest families. Suaeda (6), Atriplex, Salsola and Plantago (each with 4), Tamarix, Malva and Juncus (each with 3) were the richest genera in the area.

 

Some plant species were rarely found in the studied wetlands. They were Arnebia decumbens, Asparagus officinalis, Bromus brachystachys, Puccinellia poecilantha, Suaeda maritima, Tetradiclis tenella and Tripolium pannonicum.

 

Life form and chorology of plants

Life form spectrum of the areas indicates that therophytes and hemicryptophytes were dominant life forms with 65% and 18% of total flora, respectively (Fig. 3). Pluriregional elements (23%) had the highest proportion of total flora followed by Irano-Turanian (22%) and Irano-Turanian/Mediterranean/Euro-Siberian (14%) (Fig. 4). Detailed information of life form and chorotype spectrums for each specific habitat are given in Figures 5 and 6.

 

 

Table 1. A checklist of plant taxa and their life forms, chorotypes and habitats in Alagol, Almagol and Ajigol international wetland complex and their surroundings. The plant nomenclature is based on APG III.

Plant taxa

Life form

Chorotype

Habitat

Hb. no. (HUMZ)

Aizoaceae

       

Aizoanthemum hispanicum (L.) H.E.K. Hartmann

Th

IT, SS

St

6664

Apiaceae

       

Ammi majus L.

Th

IT, M

Sa

6665

Bupleurum semicompositum L.

Th

IT, M

Sa

6666

Daucus guttatus Smith.

Th

ES, IT, M

Sa

6529

Torilis leptophylla (L.) Rchb.f.

Th

ES, IT

Sa

6582

Torilis nodosa (L.) Gaertn.

Th

ES, IT, M

Sa

6583

Amaranthaceae (= Chenopodiaceae)

       

Atriplex canescens (Pursh) Nutt.

Ch

PL

St/Cult

6542

Atriplex halimus L.

Ch

PL

St/Cult

6556

Table 1 (continued). A checklist of plant…

 

 

 

 

Plant taxa

Life form

Chorotype

Habitat

Hb. no. (HUMZ)

Atriplex tatarica L.

Th

ES, IT, M

Sa

6558

Bassia hyssopifolia (Pall.) Kuntze.

Th

IT, SS

Sa

6718

Chenopodium chenopodioides (L.) Aellen.

Th

PL

Sa

6547

Climacoptera crassa (M. Bieb.) Botsch.

Th

IT

Sa

6559

Climacoptera turcomanica (Litv.) Botsch.

Th

IT

Sa

6560

Halocharis hispida (Schrenk ex C. A. Mey.) Bunge

Th

IT

Sa

6561

Halocnemum strobilaceum (Pall.) M. Bieb.

Ch

IT, M, SS

Sa

6562

Halostachys belangeriana  (Moq.) Botsch.

Ph

IT

Sa

6563

Halothamnus glaucus (M. Bieb.) Botsch.

Ch

IT

St

6543

Petrosimonia brachiata (Pall.) Bunge.

Th

IT

Sa

6537

Salicornia europaea L.

Th

PL

Sa

6712

Salsola dendroides Pall.

Ch

ES, IT

Sa

6548

Salsola incanescens C. A. Mey.

Th

IT

Sa

6564

Salsola sclerantha C. A. Mey.

Th

IT

St

6566

Suaeda maritima subsp. salsa (L.) Soó

Th

ES, IT

Ma

6550

Suaeda acuminata (C. A. Mey.) Moq.

Th

IT

Sa

6568

Suaeda altissima (L.) Pall

Th

ES, IT, M

Sa

6551

Suaeda heterophylla Bunge ex Boiss.

Th

IT, SS

Sa

6720

Suaeda linifolia Pall.

Th

IT

Sa

6722

Suaeda microsperma (C. A. Mey.) Fenzl.

Th

IT

Sa

6724

Suaeda salsa (L.) Pall

Th

IT

Sa

6570

Amaryllidaceae

       

Allium rubellum M. Bieb.

Ge

PL

Sa

6584

Apocynaceae

       

Cynanchum acutum L.

Hm

ES, IT, M

Sa

6530

Asparagaceae

 

 

 

 

Asparagus officinalis L.

Hm

ES, IT

Sa

6534

Asteraceae

     

Cota altissima (L.) J.Gay

Th

ES, IT

Sa

6585

Artemisia kopetdaghensis Krasch., Popov & Lincz. ex Poljakov

Ch

IT

St

6571

Artemisia scoparia Waldst. & Kitam.

Ch

ES, IT

St

6573

Tripolium pannonicum subsp. tripolium (L.) Greuter

Hm

PL

Sa

6575

Calendula arvensis (Vaill.) L.

Th

IT, M, SS

Sa

6667

Calendula sancta L.

Th

IT, M

Sa

6698

Carduus arabicus Jacq.

Th

IT, M, ES

Sa

6699

Carthamus lanatus L.

Th

IT

Sa

6517

Carthamus oxyacantha M. Bieb.

Th

IT

Sa

6531

Erigeron canadensis L.

Th

PL

Sa

6553

Cousinia sp.

Th

 

Sa

6700

Centaurea benedicta (L.) L.

Th

ES, IT, M

St

6701

Crepis sancta (L.) Bornm.

Th

ES, IT, M

St

6587

Cymbolaena griffithii (A. Gray) Wagenitz

Th

IT

Sa

6668

Epilasia hemilasia (Bunge) C. B. Clarke

Th

IT

St

6669

Filago germanica (L.) Huds.

Th

ES, IT

St

6588

Hedypnois rhagadioloides (L.) F. W. Schmidt

Th

IT, M

St

6589

Table 1 (continued). A checklist of plant…

 

 

 

 

Plant taxa

Life form

Chorotype

Habitat

Hb. no. (HUMZ)

Koelpinia linearis Pall.

Th

IT, SS

St

6597

Matricaria aurea (Loefl.) Sch. Bip.

Th

ES, IT

Sa

6590

Onopordum acanthium L.

Hm

ES, IT

St

6519

Podospermum laciniatum (L.) DC

Hm

ES, IT

Sa

6710

Senecio leucanthemifolius subsp. vernalis (Waldst. & Kit.) Greuter

Th

ES, IT, M

Sa

6670

Silybum marianum (L.) Gaertn.

Hm

ES, IT, M

Sa

6591

Sonchus oleraceus (L.) L.

Th

PL

Sa

6505

Taraxacum nevskii Juz.

Hm

IT

Sa

6592

Taraxacum vulgare (Lam.) Schrank

Hm

ES, IT, M

Sa

6593

Boraginaceae

       

Arnebia decumbens (Vent.) Coss. & Kralik

Th

IT, M

Sa

6671

Heliotropium lasiocarpum Fisch. & C. A. Mey.

Th

PL

St

6540

Heterocaryum macrocarpum Zak.

Th

IT

St

6506

Nonea turcomanica Popov

Th

IT

Sa

6594

Brassicaceae

Alyssum alyssoides (L.) L.

Th

PL

St

6673

Olimarabidopsis pumila (Celak.) Al-Shehbaz, O'Kane & R.A.Price

Th

ES, IT

Sa

6600

Capsella bursa-pastoris (L.) Medik.

Th

PL

Sa

6674

Lepidium draba L.

Hm

PL

St

6601

Lepidium didymum L.

Th

PL

Sa

6602

Hornungia procumbens (L.) Hayek

Th

PL

Sa

6603

Malcolmia africana (L.) R. Br.

Th

ES, IT, M

Sa

6604

Raphanus raphanistrum L.

Th

PL

Sa

6605

Sisymbrium irio L.

Th

ES, IT

Sa

6675

Capparidaceae

       

Capparis spinosa L.

Ph

ES, IT, M

Sa

6532

Caryophyllaceae

       

Silene apetala Willd.

Th

IT, M

Sa

6595

Spergularia diandra (Guss.) Helder.

Th

M, SS

Sa

6596

Spergularia marina (L.) Besser

Th

PL

Sa

6598

Stellaria media (L.) Vill.

Th

PL

Sa

6672

Cistaceae

       

Helianthemum salicifolium (L.) Mill.

Th

IT, M, SS

Sa

6599

Convolvulaceae

       

Cressa cretica L.

Hm

PL

Sa

6533

Cyperaceae

       

Bolboschoenus maritimus (L.) Palla

Hl

PL

Aq (Em)

6520

Bolboschoenus maritimus (L.) Palla subsp. affinis (Roth) T.Koyama

Hl

PL

Aq (Em)

6521

Schoenoplectus litoralis (Schrad.) Palla

Hl

PL

Aq (Em)

6522

Euphorbiaceae

       

Chrozophora tinctoria (L.) A. Juss.

Hm

IT

St

6546

Fabaceae

 

 

 

 

Alhagi pseudalhagi (M. Bieb.) Desv. ex B. Keller & Shap.

Ch

IT

Sa

6525

Astragalus tribuloides Delile

Th

IT, SS

St

6686

Table 1 (continued). A checklist of plant…

 

 

 

 

Plant taxa

Life form

Chorotype

Habitat

Hb. no. (HUMZ)

Medicago minima (L.)

Th

PL

Sa

6612

Trigonella stellata Forssk.

Th

IT

Sa

6687

Frankeniaceae

       

Frankenia hirsuta L.

Hm

ES, IT, M

Sa

6523

Geraniaceae

       

Erodium cicutarium (L.) L. Her.

Th

ES, IT, M

Sa

6606

Geranium dissectum L.

Th

ES, IT

Sa

6607

Gentianaceae

       

Centaurium pulchellum (Sw.) Druce.

Th

ES, IT

Sa

6608

Haloragaceae

       

Myriophyllum spicatum L.

Hy

PL

Aq (Su)

6524

Hydrocharitaceae

 

 

 

 

Najas minor All.

Th

PL

Aq(Su)

6702

Iridaceae

       

Moraea sisyrinchium (L.) Ker Gawl.

Ge

IT, M, SS

St

6503

Juncaceae

       

Juncus acutus L.

Hm

PL

Sa

6706

Juncus articulatus L.

Hm

PL

Sa

6705

Juncus persicus subsp. libanoticus (J.Thiébaut) Novikov & Snogerup

Hm

IT

Sa

6677

Lamiaceae

       

Marrubium vulgare L.

Hm

IT, M

Sa

6541

Lamium amplexicaule L.

Th

ES, IT

St

6678

Liliaceae

       

Gagea vegeta Vved.

Ge

IT

St

6679

Malvaceae

       

Malva parviflora L.

Th

IT, M, SS

Sa

6680

Malva pusilla Sm.

Th

IT, M

St

6681

Malva neglecta Wallr.

Hm

PL

St

6682

Nitrariaceae

 

 

 

 

Peganum harmala L.

Hm

IT, M, SS

St

6528

Tetradiclis tenella (Ehrenb.) Litv.

Th

IT, M

Sa

6504

Papaveraceae

       

Fumaria vaillantii Loisel.

Th

IT

St

6684

Hypecoum pendulum L.

Th

IT, M

Sa

6610

Papaver pavoninum C. A. Mey.

Th

IT

St

6685

Roemeria refracta DC.

Th

IT

St

6611

Plantaginaceae

       

Plantago weldenii Rchb.

Th

ES, IT, M

St

6615

Plantago coronopus L.

Th

ES, IT, M

St

6616

Plantago loeflingii L.

Th

IT, SS

St

6617

Plantago ovata Forssk.

Th

PL

St

6688

Veronica polita Fr.

Th

PL

St

6689

Plumbaginaceae

       

Psylliostachys spicatus (Willd.) Nevski

Th

IT

Sa

6502

Limonium meyeri (Boiss.) Kuntze

Hm

IT

Sa

6576

Table 1 (continued). A checklist of plant…

 

 

 

 

Plant taxa

Life form

Chorotype

Habitat

Hb. no. (HUMZ)

Limonium reniforme (Girard) Lincz.

Hm

IT

Sa

6535

Aeluropus littoralis (Gouan.) Parl.

Hm

IT, M, SS

Sa

6508

Alopecurus pratensis L.

Hm

PL

Sa

6691

Avena barbata Pott ex Link.

Th

IT, M

St

6619

Avena fatua L.

Th

ES, IT, M

St

6509

Bromus brachystachys Hornung.

Th

ES, IT

Sa

6510

Bromus japonicus Thunb.

Th

PL

St

6620

Cynodon dactylon (L.) Pers.

Hm

PL

Sa

6539

Hordeum murinum subsp. glaucum (Steud.) Tzvelev

Th

IT, M

Sa

6692

Hordeum marinum Huds.

Th

IT, M

Sa

6708

Rostraria cristata (L.) Tzvelev

Th

PL

Sa

6693

Lolium perenne L.

Hm

ES, IT

Sa

6694

Lolium rigidum Gaudin.

Th

IT, M

Sa

6511

Parapholis incurva (L.) C. B. Hubb.

Thr

ES, IT, M

Sa

6622

Phalaris minor Retz.

Thr

IT, M

Sa

6623

Phragmites australis (Cav.) Trin. ex Steud.

Hl

PL

Aq (Em)

6545

Poa bulbosa L.

Ge

ES, IT, M

St

6624

Polypogon monspeliensis (L.) Desf.

Th

PL

Sa

6512

Puccinellia poecilantha (K. Koch) Grossh.

Hm

IT

Sa

6501

Stipa capensis Thunb.

Th

IT, M, SS

St

6513

Sphenopus divaricatus (Gouan) Rchb.

Th

ES, M

Sa

6625

Polygonaceae

       

Polygonum patulum M. Bieb.

Th

PL

Sa

6578

Rumex dentatus L.

Th

PL

Sa

6514

Potamogetonaceae

       

Stuckenia pectinata (L.) Börner

Hy

PL

Aq (Su)

6526

Zannichellia palustris L.

Hy

PL

Aq (Su)

6703

Primulaceae

 

 

 

 

Anagallis arvensis L.

Th

PL

Sa

6609

Ranunculaceae

       

Adonis aestivalis L.

Th

ES, IT, M

St

6627

Rubiaceae

       

Galium aparine L.

Th

IT

Sa

6695

Scrophulariaceae

       

Parentucellia flaviflora (Boiss.) Nevski

Th

IT, M

St

6628

Solanaceae

       

Lycium depressum Stocks

Ch

PL

Sa

6579

Solanum nigrum L.

Th

PL

Sa

6581

Tamaricaceae

       

Tamarix arceuthoides Bunge

Ph

IT

Sa

6515

Tamarix meyeri Boiss.

Ph

IT, M, SS

Sa

6516

Tamarix karakalensis Freyn

Ph

IT

Sa

6629

Typhaceae

       

Typha laxmannii Lepech.

Hl

PL

Aq (Em)

6711

Table 1 (continued). A checklist of plant…

       

Plant taxa

Life form

Chorotype

Habitat

Hb. no. (HUMZ)

Urticaceae

       

Phylla nodiflora (L.) Greene.

Th

IT, M, SS

Sa

6554

Zygophylaceae

       

Zygophyllum fabago L.

Hm

IT

St

6536

Abbreviations: Life forms: Ch = Chamaephyte, Geo = Geophyte, Hl= Helophyte, Hem = Hemicryptophyte, Hy = Hydrophyte, Ph = Phanerophyte, Th = Therophyte. Chorotypes: IT = Irano-Turanian, ES = Euro-Siberian, M = Mediterranean, SS = Sahara-Sindian, PL= Plurireginoal. Cult = cultivated. Habitats: Aq = Aquatic open lake, Em = Emergent plant, Sa = Salt marsh habitat surrounding the wetlands, Su = Submerged plant, St = Semi-dry steppes growing in upper lands.

 

 

Fig. 3. Life form spectrum of plants in the Alagol, Almagol and Ajigol wetland complex (Ch = chamaephyte, Geo = geophyte, Hl = helophyte, Hm= hemicryptophyte, Hy = hydrophyte, Ph = phanerophyte, Th = therophyte).

 

 

Fig. 4. Percentage of chorotypes of plants in the Alagol, Almagol and Ajigol wetland complex (IT = Irano-Turanian, ES = Euro-Siberian, M = Mediterranean, SS = Saharo-Sindian, PL= pluriregional).

 

 

 

 

Fig. 5. The proportion of life form categories in different habitat types of Alagol, Almagol and Ajigol wetland complex. (Ch = chamaephyte, Geo = geophyte, Hl= helophyte, Hm = hemicryptophyte, Hy = hydrophyte, Ph = phanerophyte, Th = therophyte, Aq = Aquatic open lake, Sa = Salt marsh habitat surrounding the wetlands, St = Semi-dry steppes growing in upper lands).

 

 

Fig. 6. The proportion of chorotypes in different habitat types in the Alagol, Almagol and Ajigol wetland complex. (IT = Irano-Turanian, ES = Euro-Siberian, M = Mediterranean, SS = Saharo-Sindian, PL = pluriregional, Aq = Aquatic open lake, Sa = Salt marsh habitat surrounding the wetlands, St = Semi-dry steppes growing in upper lands).

 

 

 

Habitat characteristics

All plants studied in the area were classified into three separate habitats which were physiognomically separated based on the dominant species:

 

 

1- Aquatic open lakes

This habitat is characterized with open surface water at least for an annual period and includes six percent of total plant taxa both as submerged (e.g. Myriophyllum spicatum, Najas minor, Stuckenia pectinata and Zannichellia palustris) and emergent (e.g. Schoenoplectus litoralis, Phragmites australis and Typha laxamanni).

 

2- Salt marshes

The habitat is located in vast plain areas surrounding the wetlands and affected by various amount of wetland humidity. Both groups of perennial and annual plants particularly halophytic species constitute considerable proportion of the flora of the habitat. 68% of total identified plant taxa belonged to this habitat. Some annual plants are Atriplex tatarica, Salicornia europaea, Climacoptera turcomanica, Suaeda altissima, Spergularia diandra, Climacoptera crassa and perennial plants are Halostachys belangeriana, Halocnemum strobilaceum, Salsola sclerantha, Aeluropus lagopoides, Aeluropus littoralis, Lycium depressum, Tamarix spp.

 

3- Upland semi-dry steppes

Upland sites surrounding the wetlands are characterized with semi-dry steppe vegetation covered by a total of 26% of the studied plants. Whereas few perennials such as Artemisia kopetdaghensis and A. scoparia permanently cover the habitat,    ephemeral plants such as Avena barbata, Stipa capensis, Adonis aestivalis, Plantago coronopus, Plantago loeflingi play a considerable role in the vegetation. In the spring time, salinity of the upland hills is declined due to higher precipitation and the habitat become more favorable for annual species.

 

DISCUSSION

Alagol, Almagol and Ajigol are three Ramsar international wetlands located on salty plains of eastern coastal regions of the Caspian Sea. However, surface water of the wetlands is fed by both precipitation and freshwater river discharge (i.e. Atrak River).

The latter situation influences flora and vegetation of the wetlands, so that no real halophytic aquatic plants found in the ecosystems. Ruppia, Potamogeton (= Stuckenia), Althenia, Zannichellia, Lepilaena are some aquatic submerged vascular plants with high capacity for growing in saline water (Melack 1988).

Except Zannichellia and Potamogeton (= Stuckenia) which are often found in temporary ponds, wetlands with wide range of salinity and fluctuations (personal observations), other genera are lacking in the studied wetlands. Seasonality of these ecosystems and freshwater charges into the wetlands are considered to be the main reasons.

Water table content and soil physical and chemical variables are critical factors controlling floristic composition of different habitats of salt marshes and halophytic vegetation (e.g. Rabie & Asri 2014).

In our survey, there is a continuum of vegetation from open water lakes to the surrounding Artemisia steppes and reflected by a gradual change of water table and soil salinity.

Concerning the richest plant families existing in the area, there are some similarities between the results of current investigation and that of other wetland ecosystems such as Miankaleh (Ejtehadi et al. 2003), Amirkelayeh (Ghahreman et al. 2004), Gomishan (Karimi 2010) and Soofikam (Ghorbanli et al. 2013) (Table 2).

 

 

Table 2. Comparative floristic richness and taxonomic diversity. Miankaleh (Ejtehadi et al. 2003); Amirkelayeh (Ghahreman et al. 2004); Gomishan (Karimi 2010) and Soofikam (Ghorbanli et al. 2013).

Amirkelayeh

Miankaleh

Soofikam

Gomishan

Present study

 

320

242

173

116

159

Total number of taxa (T)

213

169

127

72

123

Total number of genera (G)

76

48

40

33

42

Total number of families (F)

1,5

1,4

1,36

1,61

1,29

T/G

2,8

3,5

3,17

2,18

2,9

G/F

 

Since the life form classification is based essentially on plant reaction to climate (Pears 1985), it can be utilized as a bioindicator of macroclimatic patterns. The occurrence of high proportion of therophytes (65%) is consistent to the results of previous investigation in arid and semi-arid regions. This is owing to better adaptation of therophytes to seasonality and instability conditions of vegetation in the wetlands and their surrounding uplands (Sabaghi et al. 2014). Therophytes were also prominent in the other wetland ecosystems of northern Iran such as Anzali (Ghahreman & Atar 2003), Amirkelayeh (Ghahreman et al. 2004), Gomishan (Ghorbanli et al. 2013), Selkeh (Zahed et al. 2013), Soofikam (Ghorbanli et al. 2011), Fereydoonkenar (Naqinezhad & Hosseinzadeh 2014) & Sorkhankol (Saeidi Mehrvarz & Ashouri Nodehi 2015).

Phytogeographically, the area is located in the border lines of two different phytogeographical regions, Euro-Siberian in the south and south west and Irano - Turanian in the eastern and northern parts. Flora of the area is partly composed of Irano - Turanian (22%) and Irano - Turanian/Euro-Sib- erian/Mediterranean elements (14%). However, bulk of the flora were influenced by pluriregional plants (23%) due to humidity and destructions (Ghahreman et al. 2004; Naqinezhad et al. 2006; Ghahreman et al. 2006; Khodadadi et al. 2009; Kamrani et al. 2011; Ravanbakhsh et al. 2013; Saeidi Mehrvarz & Ashouri Nodehi 2015). It can also be interpreted by occurrence of high number of halophytic species in the area sharing their distribution among vast phytogeographical regions (see Akhani & Ghorbanli 1993). However, some rare plants have been collected in the area of which Puccinellia poecilantha has been recently recorded for the first time in the Iranian flora from the area (Naqinezhad & Hamedani 2017). A total of 14 plant taxa of the study area possess photosynthetic pathway of C4 (Akhani & Ghorbanli 1993; Akhani 2006; Akhani et al. 2007) which are mostly belonged to Chenopodiaceae family (=Amaranthaceae). They have higher water use efficiency for primary production and particularly important for planting projects in the regions with salt and aridity stresses. 

 

Conservation

Alagol, Almagol and Ajigol are considered among the most important wintering sites for large number of migratory birds every year. They are as patchy aquatic wetlands within surrounding desertic/semi-desertic steppes and salt plains on the border of Iran and Turkmenistan. The most threatening factors affecting the vegetation and habitats of these wetland ecosystems are hunting, wetland drainage, water pollutions particularly in the Almagol wetland, dam constructions in the upper stream of the Atrak river and declining water inputs of the wetland, removing wetland water for constructing of fishing pool, planting non-native and ornamental plants in the surrounding areas of the Alagol wetland, road construction in eastern parts of Alagol wetland, and most importantly heavy grazing especially in autumns and winter. Seasonal decline of underground and surface water (particularly in dry period) along with long-term climatic change within the area cause desertification and a serious threat for biodiversity in the area. This is especially case in the area where coastal wind kicks up salty dust from the exposed lake beds and marginal salt marshes. Crop lands surrounding these ecosystems are under the most critical danger of the desertification. In order to make an appropriate conservation decision upon these fragile ecosystems, a comprehensive knowledge of flora, fauna and vegetation of the area is necessary. Preparation a vegetation map for these patchy ecosystems will be perquisite for future ecological restoration mechanisms. Water body of these wetlands should be anyway preserved either by upstream water sources of the Atrak river or by natural canals from the Caspian Sea.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

We thank Department of Environment of Golestan province for permission to work in these sites and all conservation officers of the wetlands during the field studies.

We are also indebted to Golestan Agricultural and Natural Resources Research and Education Center particularly Eng. Zeidollah Mirkazemi and the curator of the herbarium, Mrs. Maryam Alamdar for their helps and supports during the project. Mr. Ghorban Gazmeh is thanked for his assistance during the field studies.

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