Plant diversity Animal diversity Endemic, relict... The origins of cultivated crops

The favorable geographical location in subtropical, arid and continental zone of Northern Hemisphere as well as extreme diversity of geological composition, landscape and relief had predetermined rich and unique biodiveristy in Armenia. The major factors of existence of rich biodiversity are as follows:

Armenia, occupying the part of Armenian highland is located on the borderline of development of different floristic and faunal areas in the region.

Armenia is one of the areas of resting and hosting of migratory birds.

The country is on crossway of different migratory species.

The rich diversity of habitats, ranging in altitudes from 375 to 4095 meters above sea level and existence of 7 landscape types, with its unique flora and fauna.

Due to diverse climatic conditions, some 3500 species of vascular plants, more than 17500 species of animals, of which 500 - vertebrate species are found in Armenia. The quantity of lower plants and microorganisms exceeds some tens thousands. The density of higher flora species per square kilometer more than 100 species is one of the highest in the world. Besides, the biodiversity of Armenia is rich in endemic, relict and rare species.
Armenia is considered the one of major centers of agrobiodiversity in the world. It is the largest area hosting wild relatives of crops and genetic resources...

Plant diversity
Animal diversity

The enormous diversity of plants in Armenia has been described based both in terms of classification (algae, fungi, moss and higher plants), and by ecosystem. The botanic diversity of the country reflects its position between major floristic regions, with both Mediterranean and Boreal (Caucasian) floras being recorded. The extent of knowledge of different floristic groups (particularly fungi and higher plants) is described below, and the numbers of species described in different floristic groups is summarised in of Plant diversity in Armenia.

Number of species recorded
Vascular plants
c. 3555
c. 9,800

Vascular plants
Terrestrial plants

Most groups of higher plants are represented in Armenia, including peat-moss, horse-tails, ferns, gyrnnosperms (open-seed flowering plaints) and angiosperms (closed seed flowering plants). A brief overview of each of these groups is presented below.

Peat-mosses. In Ammonia only Selaginella helvelica occurs in sub-alpine meadow wet lands in the north-east of the country.
Horse-tails. Six species of horsetails are found in Armenia, mainly in relatively damp areas in forests, river valleys and shorelines. The most common species are Equisetum arvense, E. palustre, and E. ramosissumum, and although of no commeraal use, many were usetl for traditional medicine.
Ferns. Of the 10,000 species of ferns described globally, a total of 38 species of ferns are found in Armenia, the most common species include male fern (Dyopteris filix-mas), Ophioglossum vulgatum, Cystopteris fragilis, Polypodium vulgare, Athyrium filix feminum,, Asplenium spp. and Trichomanes spp. Compared with other groups of higher plants ferns have limited economic value, although they do have some decorative, edible and medicinal uses.
Gymnosperms. Of some 600 species of gymnosperms described worldwide, only nine species are recorded in Armenia, including some introduced species. Genera represented include juniper (Juniperus, 5 species), pine (Pinuss; 1 specie), yew (Taxus; 1 species) and Ephedra (2 species).
Angiosperms. These are the most diverse and abundant group of higher plants in Armenia, and represent almost 50% of the overall flora of the Caucasus. More than 3500 species of higher vascular plants of 200 families grow in Armenia, in total covering approximately 30,000 km? of the land surface of the country. As well as common temperate zone species, a number of endemic and relict forms, with restricted distributions, are found. In addition, there is high diversity among cultivated species. The diversity of plants found in Armenia reflects not just its bio-geographical position, but the range of landscapes and habitats represented in the country.
Aquatic and wetland plants
A total of 41.7 plant species (of 67 families) are known to occur in the rivers and lakes of Armenia. Most of these (58%, 246 species) belong to ten plant families. Not surprisingly, plant families associated with water or damp sites are particularly well represented in this flora (Cyperaceae and Potamogetonaceae).
In general, relatively few aquatic plants are found in the rivers and lakes of high mountains (only 10% of the aquatic flora is recorded above 2700m), most are found at mid- (1200-2700m) or low- (< 1200m) altitude (50% and 40% of the flora, respectively). Studies of the distribution of aquatic plants in Armenia have identified some key sites for these plants:

Lakes of mid-altitude and in steppes are particularly rich in water and marshland plants.
Many rare species (such as Nymphaea albs, Salvinia natalis, and Carex bhemica) are found in the relict lowlands lakes in Lori region.
The Metsamor (Sevajur) river supports many aquatic and marshland species, including nationally and regionally rare species. This is partly explained by its high water quality and slow speed.
The Lake Sevan basin supports flowering water plants in its upper waters (above 6 m), while algae flourish at greater depths.
Despite the large-scale drainage and destruction of marshland in vicinity in Lake Sevan, some populations of reeds, rushes, (Juncus), reed mace (Typha) and sedge (Carex) can still be found close to springs and emerging groundwater.
A limited number of aquatic plants are found in forest lakes. Ponds in shady woodlands (such as those of beech and oak) tend to be dominated by algal blooms, and where flowering aquatic plants do occur, their cover is relative sparse.

Animal diversity
Endemic, relict...
Plant diversity The origins of cultivated crops
As a result of its biogeographical position, diversity of landscapes, variations in altitude and mountainous nature, Armenia supports a wide range of animal species - outstanding when compared to other countries of the region. Many of the species that occur exist at the edge of their range or in separate isolated populations, and are therefore of particular interest for zoologists and conservationists.

Invertebrates: Invertebrates have been less well studied than vertebrates in Armenia, as in most countries. Around 17.000 species of invertebrates have been recorded in the country, of which 90% are insects. Studies have been conducted on around 30% of invertebrates and although the beetles (Coleoptera) are well studied, other groups such as mayflies (Ephemeroptera) and lace wings (Neuroptera) are not well known. A number of invertebrates are considered to be threatened including 7 molluscs, 15 grasshoppers, 1 homopteran bug, 10 hymeropterns (bees, wasps and ants), 40 butterflies and moths, 20 beetles and 4 flies.
A range of planktonic invertebrates are found in Armenia's water systems (totaling 124) species, including 46 species of rotifers (Rotatoria) and 78 crustaceans (Crustacea).
In addition a wide ranger of benthic species (316 species) are found in Armenian water bodies

Fish: Fish belonging to five orders are found in Armenia (Salmoniformes, Cypriniformes, Siluriformes, Cyprinodontiformes, Perciformes). A total of 31 species are recorded in Armenia, including 9 endemic species and sub-species.

Amphibians: A total of 8 amphibian species are found in Armenia. Most of them are generally widespread (European marsh frog, Rana ridibuna; brusa frog, R. macrocnemis; European green toad, Buffo viridis; European tree frogs, Hyla arborea shelkovnikovi, and H. savigni), along with endemic Syrian spadefoot toad (Pelobates syriacus). In addition, a further species was recently found in Armenia - an isolated population of banded newts (Triturus vittatus) outside their normal distribution.

Reptiles: Armenia is recognized as having one of the most interesting reptile faunas - of 156 species recorded in Newly Independent States a total of 53 are represented here.

Birds: The position of Armenia, its varied ecosystems and climate result in relatively high bird diversity. Bird faunas of Europe, the Mediterranean and the Middle East are represented. A total of 349 bird species are recorded from Armenia and birds constitute over 60% of the vertebrate fauna of the country. The Lakes Sevan and Arpi, along with Ararat Valley are of great importance for wetland birds and are used by migrating species. Together these sites support 145 species of waders and water birds.

Mammals: The mammals represent the second largest vetrebrate class in Armenia, after birds with 83 species recorded in the country. Over the last 10 years researchers identified the presence of seven bat species, previously unrecorded. These included grey long-eared bat (Plecotus austriacus), barbastelle (Barbastella barbastella), Leisler's bat (Nictalus leisleri, Nathusius pipistrelle (Pipistrellus nathusii), Savi's pipistrelle (Pipistrellus savii), particolouredbat (Vespertilio murinus) and the European free-tailed bat (Tadarida teniotis).

Plant diversity
Animal diversity
Endemic, relict...
The origins of cultivated crops

Endemic plant species
Armenia is positioned at the junction of several bio-geographical regions, and consequently contains a wealth of botanical diversity. However, these bio-geographical zones are well linked, and the lack of isolation results in relatively few endemic species. Overall, 106 species of endemic plants are recorded (representing 3% of the total Armenian flora, and 1.5% of flora found across the Caucasus.
In addition, Armenia contains a number of regional endemics which are also found at a limited number of sites in neighbouring countries. For example, Campanula inassalskyi outside Republic grows in sole site at Armenian Platey in Turkey, and Cousinia gigantolepis only grows in the southern province of Armenia and in sites in northern Iran. Overall, over 300 species are endemic to the Armenian-Iranian region.
The endemic flora of Armenia is of relatively recent origin (dating from the Quaternary or Holocene), with no ancient endemic species recorded. This reflects the relatively recent diversification of flora in the region, which has resulted in the current botanical richness of Armenia. The distribution of endemics corresponds closely with climate, and most are found in the southern and central arid zones of the country. In particular the regions of Daralagiaz and Yerevan show high numbers of endemics (with 38 and 36 species respectively).

Relict plant species

Relict species, which have been preserved since geological time practically unchanged, are an important component of Armenia's botanical diversity. It is estimated that between 150 and 200 relict species occur, although accurate determination is limited by gaps in the fossil record. Some species (such as Oriental beech Fagus orientalis, which originated in the Tertiary period) are well adapted to today's conditions, and compete well with younger species. Other relicts are widely spread but are only associated with particular habitats (e.g. yew, Caucasian rosebay), while some species are restricted to specific sites or refuges (e.g. Oriental plane Platanus orientalis and male fern Dryopteris filix-mas). There is also evidence of relict fungi species occurring in deserts and steppes including Podaxis pistillaris and Battarea phalloides).

Rare and declining plant species
Threatened plant species have been recorded from all regions. Many of the rare and threatened plants in Armenia are associated with wetlands; water-marsh systems alone contain 45 plant species which are considered to be in need of conservation attention. The greatest threat to wetland plants has been drainage of marsh and wetlands for agriculture. Around 20,000 ha of wetland sites have been drained across the country, resulting in inevitable damage to these ecosystems and associated flora. However, a number of other threats affect water plants.

A number of species (including yellow water lily (Nuphar luteum), bogbean (Menyanthes trifoliata), and flowering rush (Butolnus umbellatus) were lost when Lake Arpi was converted into a reservoir.

The drainage of Lake Gilly, and decline in water levels in Lake Sevan, severely affected populations of around 60 species of water plants (including Peucedanum zedelmeyerianum, Eleocharis transcaucasica, Astragalus goktschaicus and Puccinellia grossehimii), and a number of species disappeared completely following these activities.

Medicinal plants, such as sweet flag (Acorus calamus), which has traditionally been used to treat gastro-intestinal problems, have suffered over-collection.

Red-listed plant species
The Armenian Red Data Book (RDB) for plants was published in 1990, having been under preparation for 15 years (including 5 years in press). Publication of these works involved substantial review of the species concerned and the selection criteria used. However, more recently socio-political change has led to revision of priorities for conservation, and the need for quantitative indicators and impartial criteria has been recognised. The current listings include many rare species which are not threatened, but exclude a number of species undergoing population declines. New criteria based on quantitative indicators were proposed by the World Conservation Union - IUCN (Mace & Lande 1991) have been used in the most recent IUCN Red Lists, but further research will be needed to apply them to both the flora and fauna of Armenia.
At present Armenian biodiversity faces serious threats, and as many as half of all plants in the country may require some conservation action. This is not reflected in the Red Data Book which represents only the most highly threatened species and lists only 387 species (12% of the flora).








Endemic animal species
Of the 17.500 vertebrate and invertebrate species recorded in the country, 329 are endemic to Armenia. These include a wide range of invertebrates (including Phytodrymadusa armeniaca, Nocarodes armenus, Olophrum aragatzene, Amphycoma eichleri, Cantharis araxicola, Tomomyza araxana, Bombilius schelkovnikovi, Shadinia akramowskii, andGabbiella araxena), as well as a number of vertebrate species and sub-species.
Nine species and sub-species of fish are endemic to Armenia. These include the endemic species of Sevan trout (Salmo isshkhan), and its four races or sub-species (winter bakhtak S. ischchan, gegharkuni S. ischchan gegarkuni; boiak S. ischchan danilewskii, and summer bakhtak S. ischchan aestivalis), that occur in Lake Sevan and surrounding rivers. In addition, the following sub-species of fish are also endemic to Armenia, a roach (Armenian karmrakn, Rutilus rutilus schelkovnikovi); a schneider species (Armenian tarekhik, Alburnoides bipunctatus armeniensis); Sevan koghak (Varicorhinus capoeta sevangi); a barbel (Sevan beghlou Barbus lacerta goktschaicus); and a white bream species (Armenian goustera (Blicca bjoerkna derjavini). Populations of trout (Salmo trutta), which until recently was found in all rivers in Armenia and Wels catfish (Silurus glanis) have reduced significantly as a direct result of human activities such as intensive poaching, reservoir pollution, unlimited water use and uncontrolled fishing.
Of the 53 reptile species found in Armenia, over 13% are endemic. These include several species of rock lizards including Lacerta unisexualis (white-bellied lizard, found in the Sevan basin and surrounding areas), L. armeniaca (the Armenian lizard, found in the north of the country), and L. nairensis (found around Hrazdan River and Lake Sevan). Other endemic species and sub-species include Eremias arguta transcaucasica (the racerunner, from Lake Sevan basin), Vipera darevskii (Darevsky's viper, from Djavakhk Ridge at 2000-3000 m), and V. raddei (Armenian viper, from Armenian Plateau and Minor Caucasus). Regional endemic species (restricted to the Armenian Plateau) include several rock lizards (Lacerta dahli, L. rostombekovi and L. valentini). In addition, one amphibian, the Syrian spadefoot toad (Pelobates syriacus), is endemic to the country.
No true endemic bird species are found in Armenia, although the Armenian gull (Larus armenicus) is considered to be an endemic species, and has been recorded in the Lake Sevan basin, along the Arks, Hrazdan, and Akhurian Rivers, and in recent years in the Ararat valley. In addition, the Caucasian grouse (Tetrao mlokosiewiczi), which is endemic to the Caucasus, is uncommon in Armenia.
Among 83 mammals recorded in Armenia, six endemic species or sub-species are recorded - the northern mole vole (Ellobius lutescens), Vinogradov's jird (Meriones vinogradovi), a jerboa (Allactaga williamsi), the Caucasian birch mouse (Sicista caucasica), the Armenian mouflon (Ovis orientalis gmelinii), and a sub-species of Natterer's bat (Myotis nattereri araxenus). Of particular note is the Armenian mouflon which is now restricted to areas in southern Armenia.

Relict animal species

Few relict animal species have been recorded from Armenia. One of fish sub-species, a roach ("Armenian karmrakn", Rutilus rutilius schelkovnikovi) appears to be a relict of Tertiary origin, which has been preserved within the Metsamor basin. Two birds, the white-winged scoter (Melarlitta fusca) and the boreal owl (Aegolius funereus), are also considered to be relict species.

Rare and declining animal species
A number of vertebrate species are listed in the Red Data Book for Armenia, and many more are now considered to be undergoing decline. Studies of around 316 endemic species and sub-species, have revealed that around 100 of these are rare or declining.
Among the vertebrates species of key concern include a number of sub-species of fish, which have been threatened by declines in the water level of Lake Sevan and by over-fishing. For example, 'winter bakhtak' (Salmo ischchan), which previously made up 30% of Sevan trout stocks, has now practically disappeared, and 'bojak' (S. ischchan danilewskii) is also rarely found now. Spawning of 'summer bakhtak' (S. ischchan aestivalis) has been disrupted by both the decline in the level of Lake Sevan, and the damming of rivers, leading to declines in this sub-species, while populations of 'gegharkuni' (S. ishkhan gegarkuni) are currently maintained through artificial breeding. 'Sevan beghlou' (Barbus lacerta goktschaicus) declined following the changes in Lake Sevan (leading to habitat loss) and this species is now listed in the Red Data Book of Armenia.
Many Armenian reptiles are threatened (including a number of endemics and regional endemics). Threatened species include the Caucasian rat snake (Elaphe hohenackeri), Armenian viper (Vipera raddei), and a lidless skink (Ablepharus chernovi) among others. The population of the racerunner (Eremias arguta transcaucasica) numbering 100 individuals in the Sevan basin, is the only one in the Caucasus. A number of semi-desert and alpine bird species are considered threatened, vulnerable or extinct, while status of others has not yet been determined. Research on many of these species is limited, but such birds appear to be under increasing threat. Among mammals, the distribution and population of Armenian mouflon (Ovis orientalis gmelinii) have declined as a result of habitat loss and poaching. This species has undergone a significant range reduction during the last 20 years, when it has disappeared from the Ararat Valley, and is now restricted to sites in southern Armenia (Khosrov Reserve and adjacent areas).

Red-listed animal species
A national Red Data Book for Animals has also been published, and the Armenian Red Data Book for invertebrates is in preparation. From around 17.500 species of invertebrate and vertebrates recorded in Armenia, approximately 300 are considered to be rare or declining. Preparation of the Red Data Book for invertebrates indicates that over a hundred species will be listed, and 48 species occurring in Armenia are also listed in the RDB of the Former Soviet Union. A total of 97 vertebrates are currently listed in the Armenian RDB, of which 39 are also listed in the RDB of the Former Soviet Union, and a number are considered internationally threatened (according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. However, updating the Armenian RDB would be likely to lead to the inclusion of many more species (perhaps doubling the existing list). The status, distribution, and even scientific names, of many species have changed sine the Armenian RDB was last published. A number of species occurring in isolated populations was not included in the book. Furthermore, the recent economic crisis and natural disasters have severely impacted many species, and legislation has not been effective in protecting wildlife resources. A number of species are now thought to be on the verge of extinction in Armenia.
Among the species listed in the Armenian ROB are 15 species of amphibians and reptiles and 18 mammal species or sub-species. The following mammals appear most at risk: Mehely's horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus mehelyi), European free-tailed bat (Tadarida teniotis), long-eared hedgehog (Hemiechinus auritus), marbled polecat (Vormela peregusna), European otter (Lutra lutra), brown bear (Ursus arctos), manul (Felis manul), the Asian wild sheep (Ovis orientalis gmelini), and wild goat (Capra aegagrus). The striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena), and the Caucasian birch mouse (Sicista caucasica) with more or less extinct populations have also to be added.

Plant diversity
Animal diversity
Endemic, relict...
The origins of cultivated crops
Farming has a long history in Armenia, dating back two millennia. Since that time it has continued to be an important factor acting on natural ecosystems, and on the genetic diversity of the country, both through the use of land and through man's effects on the genetic composition of species through selective breeding.
Armenia is considered to be one of the centres of origin for wild ancestors of crops and livestock, and for the artificial selection of new varieties and breeds.

The Armenian Plateau is recognized an important center of origin for cultivated plants. This is based upon both the number of extant wild relatives of crop plants (criterion used by Humbolt &. Brown in the l9th century), and upon the number of varieties of different species occurring in the country (criterion used by Vavilov). Historical evidence has revealed ethno-botanical use dating from the 8th century BC, with excavations showing evidence of crop growing as early as the 5th century BC. This discovery of early ethnobotanical use is supported by evidence from ancient Assyrian cuneiforms (9-8th centuries BC) which suggest widespread cultivation of wheat across the Armenian Plateau. Further evidence comes from Armenian chronicles that mention the use of a range of fruit species, including Armenian varieties (e.g. fig, apple, pear, and peach) while wheat, vegetables and forest plants are mentioned by Barsegh Kesaratsi (329-279BC).
Archeological and ethno-botanical studies also indicate long-term cultivation of grains (wheat, barley, rye, millet, oats), pulses (peas, lentils, chick peas, broad beans), fruit (water-melon, grapes, apricot, quince, plum, cherry, pomegranate, peach, apple), as well as nuts and wild grasses on the Armenian Plateau. This extent of cultivation and variety of crops indicates that Armenia is an important site of origin for crop cultivars.

Wild relatives of crops in Armenia
The following varieties and wild relatives of crops occur in Armenia:

Cereals. A total of 13 species and approximately 360 varieties of wheat are found in Armenia. Three species of world importance grow in Armenia (Triticum boeoticum, T. urartu and T. araraticum), and the latter two species appear to have originated in the vicinity of Armenia. A further nine species of wheat (genus Aegilops) are recorded in Armenia, including some wild varieties. A number of species of rye occur in Armenia (sub-species of Secale cereale, and wild relatives S. vavilovii and S. montanum, including 36 varieties). Barley cultivars (Hordeum distichon, H. intermedium and H. vulgare) are planted and a further eight wild species (with high intra-specfic diversity) occur naturally (including H. spontanem and H. bulbosum).
Pulses. Native cultivars of runner beans (Phaseolus), lentils (Lens), garden pea (Pisum), and broad bean ( Vicia) are found in Armenia. In addition, wild relatives of lentils (2 species), chickpeas (Cicer arietinum, 2 varieties), and garden peas (3 species) are found.
Fodder plants. A range of fodder plants occur, mainly from two families - Fabaceae (among others Medicago (10 species/varieties), Trifolium (30), Onobrychis (6) and Vicia (36) and Poaceae (including species and varieties of Agropyron, Arrhenaterum, Dactylis, Festuca, Lolium, Phleum, and Bromus).
Fruits and berries. Fruiting plants have been grown since ancient times, and a wide range of cultivated, wild and semi-wild forms are found today. These include apples (4 varieties), pears (17), whitebeam (10), hawthorns (11), plums (4), and almond trees (4). Species and varieties of peach, quince, walnut, pomegranate, melon and fig, are cultivated as well as varieties and species of the genera Ribes (includes blackcurrant), Dospyros, Cerasus, Pistacia (includes pistachio and turpentine), Elaeagnus (includes silverberry and oleaster) Fragaria, and Rubus.
Vegetabjes and salad crops. As well as cultivated species, a number of wild crop species occur, including beetroot, spinach, carrots, coriander, mint, asparagus, and leek.
Oil bearing plants. As well as cultivated crops the following wild species grow: flax hemp, camiline (false flax), mustard (several species), safflower, and poppies.
Wild edible plants. A wide range of plants have been collected from the wild since historical times, and some of these have since been brought into cultivation.
The conservation of the natural diversity found within wild populations and relatives of crops is an important issue. This is most likely to succeed in protected areas (reserves and reservations). In addition, ex-situ conservation takes place in nurseries, seedbanks, research laboratories and herbaria. Special collections and nurseries might also be established to help protect endemic varieties of cultivated plants.

Native breeds of livestock
Armenia appears to have been the source for a number of wild relatives of domestic livestock, including sheep. Recent studies suggest that the endemic Armenian mouflon (Ovis orientalis gmelinii) may be the ancestor of domestic sheep. In addition, the Kharabaghian race of horse appears to have derived from native wild horses of the Armenian Plateau. Armenia also appears to have been a centre for goat breeding, and endemic varieties of goat (such as Kilikian semifine-wool goat) have been described.
There is a long history of animal breeding in Armenia, with archeological studies indicating the keeping of livestock since Neolithic times (including horses, cows, sheep and pigs).
Cuneiform records from Urartu also affirm that all the main agricultural species in Armenia were also bred at that time. Further evidence for the history of livestock breeding comes from ancient Armenian chroniclers (3-4th centuries AD). Since that period there is extensive evidence for artificial selection and the development of distinctive animal breeds in Armenia.

The Causcasian breed of cow was derived from the crossing of native Caucasian, Lebedinian and Castroma varieties.
Native varieties of domestic sheep derive from the Armenian mouflon, while the Armenian semicoarse-wool sheep derives from selective breeding of Balbas-American and Ramboulliet-British Lincoln breeds. A range of sheep bearing semi-fine wool have also been developed through mixed breeding.
The "Armenian manufacturing pig" was developed from crosses of big white pigs, and Landras, Wales and Djurok breeds.
"Yerevan" chickens were developed from crossing Rhode Island, Austalorp and New Hampshire breeds.
A native breed of rabbits ("Armenian marder") were bred from blue-coated rabbits crossed with Himalayan and chinchilla breeds.
Buffaloes bred in Armenia were originally derived from the Asian water buffalo.
In addition, coypu (originating in South America) have been bred in Armenia since 1940.

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