The Vegetation of the Republic of Yemen (Western Part)

Reviewed by Daniel Martin Varisco

Yemen Update 33(1993):23

There is no greater pleasure for a reviewer than coming across a publication which is attractive, accurate, useful, and virtually indispensible. Such a volume is the joint publication of DHV Consultants and Yemen's government (Environmental Protection Council and Agricultural Research Authority) called The Vegetation of the Republic of Yemen (Western Part). This publication was made possible through financial support of the Netherlands Ministry of Development Cooperation, which holds the copyright. Both an English and an Arabic edition were issued in1991. The total length of the English version is only 56 pages, including a one-page select bibliography. Of critical importance is the vegetation map at a scale of 1:500,000. The map covers most of the western part of what was formally the Yemen Arab Republic.

The work that went into production of both the information and map stems from the many long hours of exploration and analysis by Paul Scholte, Abdu Wali Al Khuleidi and Jan Joost Kessler in association with the Range and Livestock ImprovementProject on the Dhamar plain. The Dutch consultants are no longer working in Yemen, but Mr. Al Khuleidi continues botanical and forest studies in the Ta'izz branch of the Agricultural Research Authority. In addition to the exporation of the consultants, identification of specimens was also assisted through the Kew and Edinburgh herbariums.

The book begins with an identification of the eight main vegetation landscapes in Yemen. These are defined in the volume (p. 5) as follows:

  • Tihama Coastal Plain (< 400 m)
  • Tihama Foothills and Low Altitude Western Mountains (< 1000 m)
  • Medium Altitude Western Mountains (1000-1800 m)
  • High Altitude Western Mountains (1800 m)
  • li>Highland Plains (2000 m)
  • High Altitude Eastern Mountains and Highlands (> 1800 m)
  • Medium Altitude Eastern Mountains (1200-1800 m)
  • Eastern Desert Plain (< 1400 m).

Each major zone is further subdivided into discrete ecozones. For example, the Tihama coastal plain consists of: T1 mangrove, Avicenna woodland; T2 sabkhas, Sueda sparse dwarf-shrub and bare land; T3 palm groves,Phoenix-Salvadora woodland; T4 salt-bush lands,Salsola-Odyssea dwarf-shrub land; T5 Panicum sparse grassland and bare land; T6 Dactyloctenium cultivated land(irrigated); T7 Ziziphus-Dobera cultivated land (mainly rainfed); T8 Acacia-Commiphora, open woodland and bare land. Each of these ecozones is described in general, along with information on the importance of the vegetation and the appropriate way to manage this. A representative photo is provided for each, along with a sketch map indicating the major vegetation shown in the photo.

At the beginning of the book the authors provide a brief overview of the flora of Yemen, noting that there are about 3000 species of plants, by far the greatest diversity in the Arabian Peninsula. About a third of these species belong to the Saharo-Arabian plant geographic region, while the remaining two-thirds are of Sudanian origin. The authors also note that there is enough similarity between the flora of Yemen and Northeast Africa to allow for a so-called Eritreo-Arabian plant geographic region. Yemen is also a main center of succulent distribution with several endemic species. The authors, who traveled extensively in Yemen point out: "Contrary to popular belief, we think that large, although certainly not all, parts of the Yemen are at present not being overgrazed. If the grazing pressure is reduced the standing biomass will increase." This is good news for Yemen, although it is still important to deal with the many pressing environmental problems facing the country, particularly the deforestation which has been continuing for centuries.

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