Moving Higher than Highest: Mapping potential effect of climate change on the distribution of Himalayan Pit Viper (Gloydius himalayanus)

Mr Naitik Patel1, Dr Abhijit Das1

1Wildlife Institute Of India, Dehradun, India

Himalayan Pit Viper (Gloydius himalayanus) is highest-elevation dwelling snake species in the world. Being physiologically constrained by temperature and humidity coupled with limited vagility makes this snake more vulnerable to climate change. The geological history, species composition and diversity at a latitudinal and longitudinal gradient of Himalaya provide us excellent opportunity to investigate climate change phenomenon in Himalayan Pit Viper.

In this study, we used bioclimatic variables of Himalayan region (India, Nepal and Bhutan) combined with presence data of Himalayan Pit Viper to understand their current distribution and predict their future distribution under the eight climate change scenario. Our bioclimatic model showed that the current suitable habitat of Himalayan Pit Viper encompasses 1,03,021 km2 in the study area. Our analyses demonstrated that suitable habitat will be reduced by 24.85% (25,601km2) across the landscape by 2,050 due to climate change, predominantly due to the changes in temperature and precipitation. Such changes in two critical climatic variables may significantly affect the Himalayan Pit Viper distribution and physiological processes, which may increase their risk of extirpation in some areas.

Future changes in temperature and precipitation may force Himalayan Pit Viper to move in the higher elevation zone thereby increasing the risk for their survival as prey availability declines at a higher elevation. Furthermore, mapping of forest fire and land use pattern in the alpine region is needed to conserve the habitat of this species.

Key Words: Himalayan Pit Viper, Distribution, Climate Change, Climate envelope modelling, Himalayas


Although, I am from a western State of India, beyond the western-most distribution of tiger, their stripes initially mesmerised me, and I always dreamt of doing something for their well-being. To pursue my dream, I completed my Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Zoology from the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, in 2011 and 2013, respectively. Then, finally, I joined Wildlife Institute of India as a research biologist in the All India Tiger Monitoring project in November 2013. Coming to WII gave me a new vision and ideas about wildlife and their astonishing diversity. In WII, The opportunity to visit different Forested Areas and the extended studies, discussion and practices in WII campus itself opened a new window for me to think about reptiles and As of now, I am associated with the DST-NMHSE project where I shall be looking at the effect of climate change on the herpetofauna diversity along the Himalayas. Apart from exploring the wild with my team and photographing, I also look forward to encouraging young enthusiasts on nature trails! If I’m not on field collecting data, I usually enjoy outdoor sports or listen to music.

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