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  • The science of Biodiversity Conservation in India. The Next Steps

    (Image by Dan McKay,

    Biodiversity conservation is not a destination but a journey. While the rationale for this long and enduring journey is clear , often the avenues are not, for our inadequate knowledge of the interrelationships and interaction of different elements of biodiversity with the environment, their ecological requirements and prescriptions of sustainable use. This Biodiversity day we need to retrospect our goals, achievements and the shortcomings for the next steps.

    Biodiversity Conservation is best achieved through a combination of protection, preservation and intelligent use. In India we are well placed on the global biodiversity richness map, representing three of the biodiversity Ďhotspotsí by Conservation International, viz., the Western Ghats and Sri Lanka, The Himalayas and the Indo Burma, both terrestrial and Ecoregions of the WWF, Important Bird Areas of the Birdlife International, Centre for Endemism by the IUCN, and one of the eight Vavilovian centres of origin of crop plants. With charismatic species as flagships, be it the Tiger, whose status of population is a strong indicator of our success and failure in conservation, Elephants, Rhinoceros, and endangered plants like in Nepenthes we have been able to provide the necessary protection those, which needs our intervention with some degree of success braving threats like habitat destruction and poaching.

    This has been achieved through a network of protected areas viz., National parks, Sanctuaries and Reserve Forests, sacred groves and community managed forests. With a set of stringent domestic legislations including the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, National Wetland Rules, 2010, we have a National Biodiversity Authority to safeguard the nationís biological assets. The three tier Authority that empowers our villages, States and Centre has no parallel in the world. The five national bureaus for Plant, Animal, Tree, Fish and Agriculturally important microorganisms have well established facilities for conservation of the aforementioned genetic resources. In the global arena, we are signatories to the international conventions on biodiversity, wetlands of global significance, Desertification and the Laws of the seas. We are also well placed with a list of World Heritage sites, declared by UNESCO, with strong chances of Khangchendzongha National Park in Sikkim to be added to the list in times ahead.

    With a mixed bag of stories, we need to retrospect biodiversity conservation in India, our success and failures and focus on the impediments we face to gear up to the challenges ahead. In addition to the focus on charismatic species, we need a deeper understanding of our ecosystems also teeming with a diversity of smaller groups of flora and fauna. The immense ecosystem services they provide viz., the regulatory, provisioning and the cultural, are presently least understood and general awareness is limited. Scientific knowledge on these are now inimical for conservation management .The genetic diversity of our species needs assessment, for itís the diversity in genes which helps biological species to cope up and adapt to natural and anthropogenic stresses.

    They contribute to the resilience in functioning of ecosystems. Biological diversity studies need an up-gradation from species inventory to dynamics of their population, the role they play in ecosystems, their present distributional ranges, projections in event of threats like climate change and habitat loss.. An information base collating ongoing research country wide has to be created so that meaningful contributions could be made to conservation assessment processes like Red listing and Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) delineation by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), The 2020 Global Biodiversity targets, and to the management and working plans for forests of India. The very fabric of creating Biodiversity Registers under the Biodiversity rules 2006 has been an opportunity to monitor its trends with countryís citizens needs encouragement and strengthening.

    Khangchendzongha National Park in Sikkim

    Biodiversity conservation is intricately linked to its sustainable use. For many plant species for which cultivation protocols do not exit are continued to be exploited from the wild in absence of species specific standards for their sustainable harvest. Measures like complete banning or rotational harvesting of non timber forest products have been futile, illegal collections are rampant, given the fact that there is a high demand in the market, and our local communities in vicinity of forests are highly dependent on these for their livelihood.

    New approaches initiated like Forest Certification or introduction of standards by organizations like the Fairchild, need piloting . Efforts are on to exemplify certification of forest management units through Principles, Criteria and Indicators of certifying agencies like the Forest Stewardship Council. Promotion of sustainable fisheries through Marine Stewardship Council has been recently initiated in lake Ashtamudi, a Ramsar site, in Kerala. Efforts of this kind needs an up-scaling country wide. Development and implementation of species specific standards, will require intensive research on the ecological needs of the species, their regeneration, ability to withstand stress and the ecosystem services they provide. Outcomes of sound empirical studies can only contribute to good practices and modeling sustainable harvesting.

    About the Author:
    Sudipto Chatterjee
    Associate Professor, Department of Natural Resources,
    TERI University.

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