Forests play a critical role in sustaining biodiversity on the planet, including humans. They once provided food and shelter when we were hunter-gatherers. Today, our relationship with forests is at a new level. We derive most of our energy resources from forests in the form of wood and coal. What are some of the implications of this relationship and how fragile is it getting in the future? On this International Day of Forests, here is an introspection of the same.
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The 3rd of March every year was declared World Wildlife Day by the United Nations General Assembly to mark the signing of the landmark Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 1973. Aimed at celebrating and raising awareness of the world’s wild animals and plants, the day is a chance for us to think about the major threats to wildlife including habitat change, over-exploitation and illicit trafficking.
“Where are house sparrows these days? They have just become extinct!”, is a common rhetoric we hear these days in the cities. Yet, it is impossible to scientifically assert that they are dwindling in numbers, since there has not been any systematic observation or data gathered about them.
The case of the ‘vanishing’ sparrows in cities like Bengaluru throws light on an important issue associated with biodiversity – the lack of data. Old-timers across the city are able to recall a time when sparrows were ubiquitous and also observe them diminish by the day. To add to this, there has been significant drop in the tree cover and the number of insects and birds in our neighbourhood. But, to objectively answer any questions like the change in the numbers of any species, the total number of species present and the effects of a vanishing species on an ecosystem, rigorous observations, documentation and research is a necessity. In the lack of these, it is simply impossible to infer or conclude that there has been a change, let alone the decline or disappearance of certain species. This drives us to reconsider the strategies of understanding biodiversity.
In a multidisciplinary approach to conservation, ecologists, economists, geographers, activists and individuals from various other fields have come together to value the ecological and economic services of the Aghanashini estuary.
The Aghanashini River in Kumta taluk of Uttara Kannada district is one of the last undammed and pristine rivers on the west coast of Karnataka. The region surrounding the estuary boasts of various ecosystems including river, estuary, ocean, hills and dense mangroves that support rich biodiversity. The river also provides for close to 15,000 households who depend on it for food, water and other ecological services. Fisheries and bivalve collecting are still a major source of income for many households living here. The region also attracts many tourists from around the world who flock to the pleasant beaches in Gokarna, a nearby town.
The frog was first chanced upon by a citizen scientist thinking it was a bird call.
A team of frog enthusiasts including citizens, freelance researchers and scientists have discovered a new species of skittering frog (Euphlyctis karaavali) from coastal plains of Karnataka, India. This frog, measuring up to 11 cm in length and was first recorded in 2015 from a sleepy coastal village named Sanikatta in Kumta Taluk, Karnataka.
A team of frog enthusiasts, including scientists from Gubbi Labs, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) - Bengaluru and the National University of Singapore (NUS), have uncovered a widespread population of the endangered Sholiga Narrow Mouthed Frog (Microhyla sholigari) along the west coast of India. Rtd, Prof. Sushil Kumar Dutta of the Utkal University, Orissa and P. Ray of the Zoological Survey of India had originally described this tiny frog, measuring up to 1.7 cm, from the Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple Tiger Reserve (BRTTR) in the year 2000.
A recent collaborative study by the Sigur Nature Trust, Masinagudi, with its partner organizations, has identified a network of elephant corridors in the Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve using a combination of novel techniques in landscape ecology. The results of this study, led by Dr. J P Puyravaud of the Sigur Nature Trust, could not only help targeted efforts to protect endangered Asian elephants, but also help minimise the damage movements of elephants cause to human settlements and activities in the nearby regions.
Distressingly dark facets of societies such as kidnapping, rape, thievery, slavery, and murder of members of one’s own species, are not unique to human communities. Monkeys, dolphins, mice, eagles, ants and many other members of the animal kingdom are known to exhibit various instances of such behaviour. Observation of such sinister acts is fascinating to researchers, who investigate further, speculating on the significance of such an act in the light of animal cognition and how they have evolved. The serendipitous discovery of ‘brood theft’ in a group of ants in the Ant Lab at IISER Kolkata, for instance, has Prof. Sumana Annagiri and her team conducting many experiments to figure out how do they do it and why.
Trees hold a special place on the planet. Apart from being an important resource to us, they are also a generous host to many species of fungi and bacteria that spend parts of their life cycle inside the trees. These microorganisms, called endophytes, have a symbiotic relationship with trees, the nature of which depends on the genetic, environmental and geographical conditions. In a recent study, researchers at the Vivekananda Institute of Tropical Mycology (VINSTROM), Chennai, have surveyed about 100 trees from the forests in the Western Ghats to explore a particular endophyte species, Pestalotiopsis, and its interaction with trees within the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve.
Researchers have, for the first time, reported in detail a little known source of water among great apes and Old World monkeys – a family of primates that inhabit the forests of Asia and Africa. The team, led by Prof Anindya Sinha of the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore, observed eight species of great apes and Old World monkeys (belonging to the Cercopithecidae family), drinking water accumulated in tree-holes.