Over 5,000 different plants occur in the Western Ghats. Around 1,700 of these are found nowhere else in the world (1).
This includes the wild relatives of many economically important species, such as grains (including rice and barley), fruits (mango, banana and jackfruit), and spices (black pepper, cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg) (4), as well as numerous medicinal plants (4), such as the highly threatened white damor (Vateria indica). The fragrant resin and seed oil of this large evergreen tree can be used in medicines, as well as in soap and candle manufacturing (9).
Other notable plants that occur in the Western Ghats include Wight’s sago palm (Arenga wightii) whose starch and sap (palm wine) provides an alternate source of food and drink for the local Muthuvans tribes (10), and Cycas circinalis, an endangered cycad (11) that plays an important role in the ecosystem. Not only does this cycad host the plains cupid butterfly (Edales pandava), but it is also thought that fruit bats feed on its seeds, providing one of the few food sources in the forest during the monsoon season (12).
Around 120 mammal species have been recorded in the Western Ghats (6). Most notably, they are home to both the world’s largest population of Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) and to ten percent of the world’s tigers (Panthera tigris) (2).
Prominent endemic mammals include the Nilgiri tahr (Hemitragus hylocrius), which can be observed on the cliffs and high, grassy plateaus, and the lion-tailed macaque (Macaca silenus) which inhabits the evergreen forest (6) (11).
Nearly 50 of the mammal species found in the Western Ghats are bats (1). This includes Salim Ali’s fruit bat (Latidens salimalii), remarkable for being the only species in its genus (1).
A great diversity of birds have been recorded in the Western Ghats (1), from the imposing Indian vulture (Gyps indicus) to the tiny blue Nilgiri flycatcher (Eumyias albicaudatus), and the stunning Indian peafowl (Pavo cristatus) (13).
Of the 500 bird species known from the Western Ghats, around 22 species occur nowhere else in the world (6). Many of these endemic species, such as the Nilgiri wood pigeon (Columba elphinstonii) and Nilgiri blue robin (Myiomela major), are considered threatened (6) (11).
Reptiles and amphibians
The 225 species of reptiles recorded in the Western Ghats includes some fascinating and unique animals (6), such as the endemic Cochin forest cane turtle (Vijayachelys silvatica) (11), the wonderfully named mugger (Crocodylus palustris), and the infamous king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah). A family of primitive burrowing snakes, the Uropeltidae, are also largely restricted to these mountain ranges (6).
Equally as intriguing are the 117 amphibian species found in the Western Ghats, of which 89 are endemic (14). This includes the peculiar-looking purple frog (Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis), which was only recently discovered in the southern Western Ghats, and represents an entirely new genus (6).
Fish and invertebrates
The numerous rivers and streams that originate in the Western Ghats are home to a remarkable variety of fish. Of the 288 species recorded, 118 are endemic (16). This includes the Denison barb (Puntius denisonii), a pretty, stream-dwelling fish that is a popular species in the ornamental fish trade (16).
While knowledge on the invertebrate fauna of the Western Ghats is relatively poor (1), the available information indicates that the Ghats harbour an abundance of diverse invertebrates, many of which are believed to be endemic (1). For example, of nearly 140 tiger beetle species known from the Western Ghats, more than 100 are found nowhere else (1).
An incredible 330 butterfly species have been recorded in the Western Ghats (6). One of these species, the Travencore evening brown (Parantirrhoea marshalli), can only be found in a small area of mid-elevation forest in the Ghats, where it flutters around reed patches at twilight (17).