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Soils plant and animal life of India


India exhibits a diverse array of soil types, reflecting the intricate natural environmental processes that have shaped them. These soils can be principally categorized into two primary classifications: in situ soils and transported soils. In situ soils are characterized by their unique properties that are directly influenced by the composition of their parent rocks. These soils have been modified through the actions of dynamic natural elements such as water currents, glacial movements, and wind erosion, resulting in their deposition across various landforms, including river valleys and coastal plains. The sieving process of these soils typically results in the stratification of materials, which may alter the original chemical attributes of the in situ soils without forming distinct pedologic horizons.

Within the realm of in situ soils, one can identify the red-to-yellow spectrum of soils, inclusive of lateritic types, as well as the black soils, regionally referred to as regur. Following these, alluvial soil emerges as the third most prevalent soil type in India. Furthermore, the desert soils of Rajasthan, the saline soils found in parts of Gujarat, southern Rajasthan, and certain coastal regions, along with the mountainous soils of the Himalayan range, are of considerable significance. The determination of soil types is influenced by a multitude of factors, such as the prevailing climate, the topography, elevation, drainage patterns, and the nature of the bedrock material.

In situ soils Red-to-yellow soils

The extensive non-fluvial regions of peninsular India are characterized by the presence of soils derived from acidic parent materials such as granite, gneiss, and schist. These soils typically undergo a process of leaching due to high rainfall, which removes soluble minerals from the soil and depletes it of its basic chemical constituents. This leaching process often leads to an enrichment of oxidized iron within the soil, imparting a distinctive reddish coloration to these soils, which are thus frequently referred to as ferralitic. In certain instances, the high concentration of iron oxides can result in the formation of a dense, hard layer known as a lateritic crust, named after the Latin word “later,” meaning “brick.”

Predominantly, these heavily leached red to yellow soils are found in regions with substantial precipitation, such as the Western Ghats, the western part of the Kathiawar Peninsula, eastern Rajasthan, the Eastern Ghats, the Chota Nagpur plateau, and the elevated areas of northeastern India. Conversely, less-leached red to yellow soils are observed in the drier zones situated immediately to the east of the Western Ghats, within the arid Deccan interior. These soils are generally considered to be infertile; however, in forested areas, the accumulation of humus and the natural recycling of nutrients can partially mitigate this issue, enhancing the fertility of the topsoil layer.

Black soils

In the diverse soil landscape of India, the black soils present within the lava-impregnated regions stand out prominently. These soils are commonly known as “black cotton soils” due to the historical prevalence of cotton cultivation in these areas, although they are scientifically termed regur. Originating from the decomposition of trap lava, black soils are predominantly found in the interior regions of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Madhya Pradesh, particularly on the Deccan and Malwa plateaus. The environmental conditions here, characterized by moderate rainfall and the presence of basaltic bedrock, contribute to the distribution of these soils.

One of the defining characteristics of black soils is their high clay content, which leads to the formation of extensive cracks when they dry. However, their granular structure, enriched with iron, confers a notable resistance to both wind and water erosion. Despite a low humus content, these soils exhibit an excellent capacity to retain moisture, making them highly responsive to irrigation practices.

Additionally, black soils are not confined solely to their primary locations; they can also be found in surrounding areas where basaltic material has been relocated through riverine activities. This translocation has resulted in an enrichment of the clastic components within the soil, further distinguishing it from other soil types.

Alluvial soils

Alluvial deposits are extensively distributed across various regions. These fertile soils are notably found throughout the extensive Indo-Gangetic Plain and are present along the lower stretches of the majority of the nation’s principal rivers, with a particular prevalence in the deltaic regions along the eastern coastline. Additionally, the coastal plains of India, which are not part of the deltaic areas, feature distinct strips of alluvial deposits.

In the context of the Indo-Gangetic floodplain, the newly deposited alluvium, referred to as khadar, is recognized for its exceptional fertility and homogeneity in terms of texture. In contrast, the older alluvium, which is situated on the slightly raised landforms known as terraces and is known as bhangar, is characterized by sporadic occurrences of alkaline crusts, known as usar. These crusts can contribute to the infertility of certain tracts of land. Within the basin of the Ganges, there exists a network of sandy aquifers which contain a substantial reserve of groundwater. This resource plays a critical role in supporting irrigation efforts, thereby contributing to the transformation of the plain into the most agriculturally productive region within the country.

Plant and animal life


The vegetation of India is a direct reflection of the nation’s climatic patterns, particularly its rainfall distribution. Regions that receive abundant rainfall are adorned with tropical broad-leaved evergreen and mixed, partially evergreen forests. As the precipitation decreases, one encounters a gradient of ecosystems, including moist and dry deciduous forests, scrub jungles, grasslands, and desert flora. The Himalayan range is uniquely home to coniferous forests. India boasts approximately 17,000 species of flowering plants, with a significant number of these being endemic, a consequence of the subcontinent’s geographical and climatic isolation.

Approximately one-fourth of India’s land area is covered by forests, but the late 20th century marked a period of significant deforestation to accommodate agricultural expansion and urban-industrial development. This has had a detrimental impact on the native plant species, leading to the extinction of around 20 higher-order plant species and the endangerment of an estimated 1,300 species.

Tropical evergreen and mixed evergreen-deciduous forests thrive in regions with annual rainfall exceeding 80 inches (2,000 mm), such as upper Assam, the Western Ghats (notably in Kerala), certain areas of Odisha, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. These lush, multistoried forests are composed of a variety of trees, including Mesua, Toona ciliata, Hopea, and Eugenia species, as well as the towering gurjun (Dipterocarpus turbinatus), which can reach heights above 165 feet (50 meters). The mixed forests in Kerala and the Bengal Himalayas are particularly noted for their diverse assortment of commercially valuable hardwoods, including Lagerstroemia lanceolata, Pterocarpus marsupium, and Dalbergia latifolia.

Tropical moist deciduous forests are typically found in areas with rainfall between 60 to 80 inches (1,500 to 2,000 mm) and can be seen in the northern Eastern Ghats, east-central India, and western Karnataka. Conversely, dry deciduous forests dominate in regions with less than 60 inches (1,500 mm) of annual rainfall, such as in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, eastern Rajasthan, central Andhra Pradesh, and western Tamil Nadu. Notable deciduous species include teak, Shorea robusta, Anogeissus latifolia, tendu, ain, and Adina cardifolia.

Tropical thorn forests are scattered across India, predominantly in the northern Gangetic Plain and the southern peninsula. These forests have adapted to survive in areas with less than 24 inches (600 mm) of rainfall and in zones where deciduous forests have been degraded due to uncontrolled grazing, deforestation, and shifting cultivation. Drought-tolerant species such as various acacias (including babul and catechu) and Butea monosperma are prevalent in these ecosystems.

Among the commercially significant species are teak and Shorea robusta. Teak, primarily found on the peninsula, was historically utilized in shipbuilding during the British colonial era, leading to the establishment of reserved teak plantations. Shorea robusta grows in the lower Himalayas and across several Indian states, including Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Assam, and Madhya Pradesh. Other commercially important species include sandalwood (Santalum album), renowned for its exquisite fragrance and high value, and rosewood, an evergreen prized for its use in carving and furniture-making.

Numerous species stand out within the diverse ecological tapestry, particularly for their unique environmental adaptations. For instance, the delta regions are bordered by mangrove ecosystems, where the prominent species known as sundri or sundari (Heritiera fomes)—which is not, strictly speaking, a true mangrove—displays distinctive pneumatophores that protrude above the tidal waters for respiration. Palms also punctuate the tropical vistas of India, with around 100 species present. Notably, the coconut and betel nut, whose seeds are traditionally chewed, are predominantly cultivated along the coasts of Karnataka and Kerala.

Widespread and stately in appearance, the mango tree is integral to India’s fruit supply, while the sacred Ficus varieties—the pipal (noted as the Bo tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment) and the banyan—are deeply revered. Bamboos, belonging to the grass family, flourish across India, especially in regions with high rainfall.

The Himalayan vegetation exhibits stratification by altitude. The lower elevations, up to 5,000 feet (1,500 meters), are characterized by mixed evergreen-deciduous woodlands. Progressing upward, one encounters the subtropical pine forests, which give way to the moist-temperate forests, home to species such as oak, fir, deodar (Cedrus deodara), and spruce, at higher elevations. The uppermost forest zone, reaching approximately 15,000 feet (4,500 meters), comprises alpine shrubs. Rhododendrons flourish around the 12,000-foot (3,700-meter) mark, with junipers and alpine pastures appearing sporadically beyond this point. It is important to note that these zones are not rigidly defined; rather, they exhibit considerable overlap and are connected by extensive transitional areas.


The submontane regions are home to a diverse array of mammalian species, including the Indian elephant (Elephas maximus), which has been an emblem of mythological significance and royal grandeur for countless generations. The formidable Indian rhinoceros with its singular horn, a plethora of ruminant species, and various primate populations also inhabit these areas. Additionally, a multitude of predators from different genera are present.

Observations of wild elephant herds can be made in several locales, notably within the esteemed Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala and Bandipur in Karnataka. The Indian rhinoceros receives protection within the confines of Kaziranga National Park and Manas Wildlife Sanctuary in Assam.

Among the ruminants, one finds the Indian bison or gaur (Bos gaurus), which dwells in the forested regions of the peninsula, Indian buffalo, the unique four-horned antelope (Tetracerus quadricornis), also known as chousingha, the blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra), the nilgai (Boselaphus tragocamelus), and the Indian wild ass (Equus hemionus khur), colloquially referred to as ghorkhar. Deer species in the region include the elusive Kashmir stag (hangul), the swamp deer (barasingha), the spotted deer, musk deer, the brow-antlered deer (Cervus eldi eldi), an imperiled species locally termed sangai or thamin, and the mouse deer.

Primate species in the region encompass various monkeys, such as rhesus monkeys and the gray or Hanuman langurs (Presbytis entellus), which are prevalent in both forested areas and proximate to human habitations. The hoolock gibbon, India’s sole ape species, is restricted to the eastern rainforests. The lion-tailed macaques of the Western Ghats, distinguished by their facial hair halos, are increasingly rare due to illegal hunting activities.

India’s carnivorous species include an assortment of cats, canines, foxes, jackals, and mongooses. The Asiatic lion, now only found in Gir National Park in Gujarat’s Kathiawar Peninsula, represents the sole surviving lion subspecies outside Africa. The Bengal tiger, India’s national animal, is revered for its striking coloration, elusive nature, and impressive strength. Among the five surviving tiger subspecies globally, the Bengal tiger is the most populous. Their habitats include the Tarai region in northern India, Bihar, Assam, the Ganges delta in West Bengal, the Eastern Ghats, Madhya Pradesh, and eastern Rajasthan. Thanks to conservation efforts such as Project Tiger, which established reserves across the nation, the previously endangered Indian tiger population has seen a significant resurgence.

In the Great Himalayas, one can encounter remarkable wildlife such as wild sheep, goats, the markhor (Capra falconeri), and the ibex. The lesser panda and the elusive snow leopard also reside in the higher altitudes of these mountains.

Domesticated animals prevalent in the region include oxen, buffalo, horses, dromedary camels, sheep, goats, and pigs. The Brahman or zebu (Bos indicus), a breed of cattle, serves as a vital draft animal in this context.


India boasts an impressive avifaunal diversity, with over 1,200 bird species and approximately 2,000 subspecies, a number that includes migratory birds that grace the country with their presence primarily during the winter months. This rich tapestry of bird life constitutes around 12.5% of the global avian population. The key to this remarkable diversity lies in India’s vast array of ecosystems, ranging from the frigid, arid alpine tundra found in regions such as Ladakh and Sikkim to the dense, humid mangrove forests of the Sundarbans, and the lush, verdant rainforests of the Western Ghats and the northeastern territories.

India’s extensive river systems, including numerous large rivers, create a network of deltas and backwaters that support a plethora of aquatic species. The smaller rivers that terminate in expansive saline lakes also serve as pivotal breeding sites for various bird species including the black-necked cranes (Grus nigricollis), bar-headed geese (Anser indicus), great crested grebes, and an assortment of terns, gulls, plovers, and sandpipers. The avifauna also includes herons, storks, ibises, and flamingos, many of which are frequent visitors to the Keoladeo Ghana National Park near Bharatpur, Rajasthan, a site recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985. Furthermore, the Rann of Kachchh provides a critical habitat for one of the largest breeding colonies of flamingos worldwide.

Raptors such as hawks, vultures, and eagles are also integral to India’s avian community. Vultures, in particular, play a vital role in the ecosystem as scavengers. Game birds, including pheasants, jungle fowl, partridges, and quails, are found across the country, while peacocks (peafowl) are notably prevalent in Gujarat and Rajasthan, where they are often domesticated. The peacock, with its magnificent plumage, has been rightfully chosen as India’s national bird.

Among the notable avian species is the Indian crane, also known as the sarus (Grus antigone), a stately bird that matches a human in height and is distinguished by its gray plumage and crimson legs. Bustards, particularly the great Indian bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps), inhabit the nation’s grasslands, though it is now an endangered species, its survival safeguarded by legal protection. The country’s avian landscape is further enriched by the presence of sand grouse, pigeons, doves, parakeets, cuckoos, the predominantly sedentary kingfisher—revered in many cultures—hornbills, barbets, woodpeckers, larks, crows, babblers, and thrushes.

Reptiles, fish, and insects

India boasts a diverse and abundant reptilian fauna. The nation’s aquatic ecosystems, including rivers, wetlands, and lakes, are home to several species of crocodiles. The estuarine crocodile (Crocodylus porosus), historically known to reach lengths of up to 30 feet (9 meters), is now more commonly found at lengths not exceeding 20 feet (6 meters). This species primarily feeds on the aquatic fauna of the silt-laden delta areas, such as fish, avian species, and crustaceans. The gharial (Gavialis gangeticus), with its distinctive elongated snout, is a crocodilian native to the northern regions of India and is prevalent in the major river systems, including the Ganges and Brahmaputra, along with their tributaries.

Out of the approximately 400 snake species found in India, about 20% are venomous. The krait and cobra species are notably prevalent and pose a significant risk due to their venom. The formidable king cobra can often be found at lengths of 12 feet (3.6 meters) or more. The Indian python, another large reptile, is typically seen in wetland and grassland habitats. Lizards are ubiquitous across the country, and turtles are particularly common along the eastern coastline.

The ichthyofauna of India is equally rich, with around 2,000 fish species, of which approximately one-fifth are freshwater species. Notable among these are the catfish and members of the carp family, such as the mahseer, which can attain sizes of up to 6.5 feet (2 meters) and weigh as much as 200 pounds (90 kilograms). Sharks are present in the coastal waters of India and have been known to venture into estuarine environments. The marine shellfish of commercial interest include a variety of species such as shrimps, prawns, crabs, lobsters, pearl oysters, and conchs.

In the realm of insects, India has commercially important species like silkworms, bees, and the lac insect (Laccifer lacca), the latter being renowned for its secretion of lac, a resinous substance used in the production of shellac and a red dye. However, it is important to note that certain insect species, including various mosquitoes, are vectors for diseases such as malaria and yellow fever, or serve as carriers for human parasites, including specific flatworms and nematodes.

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