INDIA’S BIODIVERSITY: STATUS, TRENDS AND THREATS
· India, known for its rich heritage of biological diversity, has so far documented over 91,200 species of animals and 45,500 species of plants in its ten bio-geographic regions. Besides, it is recognized as one of the eight Vavilovian centres of origin and diversity of crop plants, having more than 300 wild ancestors and close relatives of cultivated plants, which are still evolving under natural conditions. India is also a vast repository of Traditional Knowledge (TK) associated with biological resources.
· India ranks among the top ten species-rich nations and shows high endemism. India has four global biodiversity hot spots (Eastern Himalaya, Indo-Burma, Western Ghats and Sri Lanka, and Sundaland). The varied edaphic, climatic and topographic conditions and years of geological stability have resulted in a wide range of ecosystems and habitats such as forests, grasslands, wetlands, deserts, and coastal and marine ecosystem.
· Faunal diversity in India are being progressively updated and analyzed with several new discoveries. So far, nearly 91,212 of faunal species (7.43% of the world’s faunal species) have been recorded in the country. Endemic rich Indian fauna is manifested most prominently in Amphibia (61.2%) and Reptilia (47%). Likewise, Indian fish fauna includes two endemic families and 127 monotypic genera. As per the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List (2008), India has 413 globally threatened faunal species, which is approximately 4.9% of the world’s total number of threatened faunal species.
· Continuous surveys and explorations have added new discoveries – 41 plant species in 2007 by Botanical Survey of India (BSI) alone. The unique features of the plant diversity, among others, include 60 monotypic families and over 6000 endemic species. Recent estimates indicate the presence of over 256 globally threatened plant species in India.
· Likewise, India’s contribution to crop diversity has been impressive with repositories of over 50,000 varieties of rice, 5,000 of sorghum, 1,000 varieties of mango, etc. The National Genebank, primarily responsible for ex-situ conservation of unique germplasm on long-term basis, holds 3,66,933 unique accessions of plant genetic resources. India is also endowed with vast and diverse forms of domesticated animal genetic resources, e.g., cattle, buffalo, sheep, goat, pig, camel, horse, donkey, yak, mithun, duck, goose, quail, etc. Besides, a rich diversity of wild relatives of domesticated animals exists here. The molecular characterization has been undertaken so far only in a few animals such as cattle, sheep, pig and poultry, using internationally recommended DNA markers.
· India, endowed with vast inland and marine bioresources, is the third largest producer of fish in the world. A database on 2,182 fishes found in Indian waters has been developed, which includes 327 fresh water species listed in IUCN threat categories and 192 endemic fishes. A macro level fish occurrence map of India has been prepared and DNA barcodes of 100 Indian marine fish species developed.
1. The mountain ecosystems of India are largely described under two global hot-spots, viz., the Eastern Himalaya, and the Western Ghats and Sri Lanka. They contribute prominently in geographic extent, bio-physical and socio-cultural diversity and uniqueness. The extent of species endemism in vascular plants alone ranges from 32 to 40% in the mountain ecosystems. Other groups, such as reptiles, amphibians and fish show more than 50% of species endemism in Western Ghats. Of the 979 bird species recorded from the Himalayan region, four Endemic Bird Areas have been delineated for priority conservation measures and likewise, identification of “Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs)” has been initiated in Western Ghats. At present, there are 137 Protected Areas (47,208 sq km) in the Indian Himalayan Region (IHR) and 88 Pas (13,695 sq km) in Western Ghats.
Mountain biodiversity In India, mountains are mostly under two global hotspot areas Uniqueness of the region is manifested in its rich species endemism (over 40%) Over 175 tribal groups inhabiting this region depend directly on diversified resource base for existence. The ecosystem services emanating from the region benefit the plains and contribute substantially towards sub-national, regional and global ecological security. Out of the five natural World Heritage Sites (WHS) recognized by United Nations Educationmal, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in India, three are located in the Himalayan region viz, Nanda Devi NP, Kaziranga NP and Manas NP. Further, the Valley of Flowers NP has been included in the list of WHS as an extension to Nanda Devi NP. In addition, Kangchendzonga NP and Namdapha NP are included in the tentative list of WHS. Considering the importance of natural sites, an externally aided project titled ‘World Heritage Biodiversity Programme for India: Building Partnerships to Support UNESCO’s WHS programme’ is being undertaken.
The Western Ghats World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) has identified Western Ghats region as one of the important areas of freshwater biodiversity.
The Nilgiri BR spread over three states in Western Ghats was the first BR to be set up in the country.
2. Arid and semi-arid regions spread over ten states, cover 38.80% of India’s total geographical area. The cold arid zone located in Trans-Himalayan region covers 5.62% area of the country. The region is stronghold of three cat predators – the lion, leopard and tiger. Of the 140 species of birds known, the Great Indian Bustard is a globally threatened species. The flora of the Indian desert comprises 682 species with over 6% of total plant species as endemics. The cold desert is the home of rare endangered fauna, such as, Asiatic ibex, Tibetan argali, Wild yak, Snow leopard, etc., and the flora is rich in endemic and economically important species. India’s Third National Report on the implementation of United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) indicates that most of arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas of India are either subject to desertification, identified as drought prone or considered wastelands.
Biodiversity of arid and semi-arid lands
Arid and semi-arid region of India covers 127.3 mha i.e. 38.8% of total geographical area and spreads over 10 states. The hot arid zone occupies major part of Rajasthan (60%), Gujarat (20%), Punjab and Haryana (9 %), and Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra (10 %). The cold arid zones are located in the Trans-Himalayan region of Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Sikkim
covering an area of 1,84,823 sq km i.e. 5.62% of the total geographical area.
Hot deserts and semi-arid region
· Thar desert is the world’s seventh largest desert and is considered the most inhospitable ecoregion in Indo-Pacific region. This large eco-region lies to the west of Aravalli Range and characterized by extreme climate (annual temperature ranging from near freezing in the winters to over 50Oc in summers). Rainfall is scanty in the range of 100-150 mm.
· Several species have adapted themselves to survive in these harsh conditions. The mammal fauna comprises 41 species that include three large cat predators – the lion, leopard and tiger. It is home to some of India’s most magnificent grasslands and sanctuary for a charismatic bird, the Great Indian Bustard Among the mammal fauna, the blackbuck, wild ass, chinkara, caracal, and desert fox inhabit the open plains, grasslands, and saline depressions. Blackbuck, a globally threatened species is found in this area.
· The degree of endemism of plant species in Thar desert is 6.4% which is relatively higher than 3% endemism the Sahara desert.
Cold desert region
· The cold desert regions of Trans-Himalayan zone of India are characterized by severe arid conditions, where temperature drops to –50oC during winter, insignificant monsoonal effects, enormous resources, endemic and highly specialized biological elements and diversity of indigenous sociocultural systems.
· Cold desert comprises of alpine mesophytes and desert vegetation. Some of the endemic plants reported from the region include: Corydalis adiantifolia, C. tibetica, Braya acnea, Capsella thomsonii, Dianthus deltoids, Stellaria tibetica, Astragalus ciotus, A. melanostachys, A. oxydon, A. tribuulifolius, Sedum crassipes, Chrysonthemum tibeticum, Crepis stoliczka, Inula falconeri, Leontopodium nanum,
· Saussurea subulata, S thomsonii, Senicio tibeticus, Tanacetum artemesioides, Acantholimon lycopodiodes and Waldhamia nivea.
· Cold desert is the home of highly adaptive, rare endangered fauna, such as Asiatic Ibex, Tibetan Argali, Ladakh Uriyal, Bharal, Tibetan Antelope, Tibetan Gazelle, Wild Yak, Snow Leopard, Brown Bear, Tibetan Wolf, Wild Dog and Tibetan Wild Ass.
· Avifauna includes some restricted range species such as Black Necked Crane which breeds in the higher reaches of this region.
· Land degradation is estimated to affect at least one-third of the 329 mha geographical area in India. Arid areas (49.5 mha) are the worst affected, especially in the western part of Rajasthan that includes the Thar desert (20.87 mha), as well as in arid Gujarat (6.22 mha).
3. The wetland ecosystems India has a variety of wetland ecosystems ranging from high altitude cold desert wetlands to hot and humid wetlands in coastal zones with its diverse flora and fauna. At present, 115 wetlands have been identified under the National Wetland Conservation Programme (NWCR) and 25 wetlands of international importance under Ramsar Convention. About 4,445 sq. km area of the country is under mangroves. The major threats to wetland ecosystems include uncontrolled siltation, weed infestation, discharge of waste effluents, surface run-off, habitat destruction, encroachment and hydrological perturbations.With a long coastline and a vast Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), India has a very wide range of coastal ecosystems. Such regions are prone to overexploitation of bioresources, poorly planned human settlements, improper location of industries, and pollution from industries and settlements.
Wetlands, transition between terrestrial and aquatic systems, are unique habitats that sustain substantial biodiversity. Wetlands are important for regulating water cycle, playing critical role in maintaining the health of rivers, estuaries and coastal
waters. These are habitats for specialized animals and plants, many of which are threatened. The wetlands in India estimated to cover about 58.2 mha, are distributed in all the biogeographic regions and show significant ecological diversity ranging from high altitude cold desert wetlands to hot and humid wetlands in coastal zones with a range of othertypes in between.
Uniqueness of biodiversity
· The wetlands are home to many endemic and threatened species distributed across the country Under the NWCP, of the total 115 wetlands only 31 (27%) are covered
· under PAs. A study has indicated that conservation efforts of the Himalayan wetlands have largely been concentrated in the two western Himalayan States (J&K and HP). The eastern Himalaya, that contain 80% (1,529) of total Himalayan wetlands have received little attention. These wetlands are important wildlife
· habitats and have significant socio-cultural values.
· In recent years, India’s response to international commitments under Ramsar Convention has resulted in steady progression of designating Ramsar sites. At present, 25 wetlands have been designated as Ramsar sites in India,which cover an area of 6,77,131 ha. Chilika Lake (Orissa) and the Keoladeo NP (Rajasthan) were the first two
· Mangrove ecosystem constitutes a bridge between terrestrial and marine ecosystems and are found in the inter-tidal zones of sheltered shores, estuaries, creeks, backwaters, lagoons, marshes and mud-flats and are regarded as most productive and biologically diverse ecosystems.
· Mangroves in India account for about 5% of the world’s mangrove vegetation and are spread over an area of 4,445 km2 along the coastal States/UTs of the country. State/UT wise mangrove cover as assessed by FSI in different assessments is given .West Bengal has the maximum of mangrove cover in the country, followed by Gujarat and Andaman & Nicobar Islands.
Types of threats to mangroves in India
Marine and Costal Biodiversity
India with a coastline of about 8,000 km, and an EEZ of 2.02 million sq km, shows a very wide range of coastal ecosystems like estuaries, lagoons, mangroves, backwaters, salt marshes, rocky coasts, and stretches and coral reefs which are characterized by rich and unique biodiversity components
Status of coral reefs
· Coral reefs are the protectors of the coastlines of the maritime states. The coastal populations of India mostly depend on the coral reef ecosystems. In India, major coral reef ecosystems are Gulf of Mannar, Gulf of Kachchh, Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshadweep Islands which embrace all the three major reef types (atoll, fringing and barrier) and include diverse and extensive reef areas of the Indian Ocean.
· The total area of coral reefs in India has been estimated as 2,375 sq km
· The Andaman Islands have around 80% of the global coral diversity, suggesting that a final count could reach up to 400 species.
· These include 15 families, 60 genera and 208 species of Scleractinia (reef building and hermatypic corals) from four major reefs of India such as Gulf of Kachchh (36 species, 20 genera) Lakshadweep (91 species, 34 genera), Gulf of Mannar and Palk Bay (82 species 27 genera) Andaman and Nicobar Islands (177 species, 57 genera). Patterson (2007) updated the number of coral species in Gulf of Mannar to 117 belonging to 40 genera. The shallow reefs of the Gulf of Mannar had about 41% coral cover and a large proportion of old, dead and turfed corals (32%).
4. Protected AreaIndia’s major strength in in-situ conservation lies in its impressive PA network, which currently comprises 661 Pas [National Parks (NPs) (99), Wildlife Sanctuaries (WLSs) (515), Conservation Reserves (ConR) (43) and Community Reserves (ComR) (4), established under the Wildlife (Protection) Act (WPA), 1972] covering approximately 4.80% of the total geographical area of the country. India also has special flagship programmes for the conservation of tiger and elephant. India’s Pas grew by 15% since the adoption of the Programme of Work on Pas in 2002.
· Article 8 of the CBD advocates importance of promoting in-situ conservation. The CBD as well as the World Parks Congress, Durban, 2003 have marked a significant shift in the historical perception of PAs. They are now steadily being linked with issues related to people’s concern on livelihood, traditional knowledge, access to genetic resources, national sovereignty, equitable sharing of benefits, intellectual property rights and overall sustainable development.
Protected Area management : Status
· PAs are the cornerstones of biodiversity conservation efforts. India has created a network of Pas and other conservation areas, which include a total of 661 units (i.e. 99 NPs, 515 WLs, 43 ConR and 4 Com R), besides identifying a number of wetlands under the NWCP for conservation.
· The area covered under PAs and other conservation sites accounts for around 9% of the total geographical area of the country.
· Special flagship programmes for the conservation of tigers and elephants being implemented on landscape level have led to the recovery of these species and conservation of their habitats.
· Currently India has 37 Tiger Reserves and 26 Elephant Reserves.
· A Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) has been established in 2007 to combat illegal trade in wildlife and its derivatives.
NBAP: (Mainstreaming of Biodiversity Considerations ) India is committed to contributing towards achieving three objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the 2010 target and the Strategic Plan. Strategies and plans for conservation and sustainable use of biological resources based on local knowledge systems and practices are ingrained in Indian ethos and are enshrined in the Constitution of India [Article 48 A and Article 51 A(g)] in the form of environment protection. In recent times, the major building blocks of policy frameworks, legislations and action plans that drive the country in achieving all the three objectives of the CBD include, among others, Biological Diversity Act (BDA), 2002, National Wildlife Action Plan (NWAP) (2002-2016), National Environment Policy (NEP) 2006, National Biodiversity Action Plan (NBAP), 2008 and National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC), 2008.
A brief synopsis of the main activities undertaken by India corresponding to the 11 goals of the 2010 target is given below:
Goal 1: Promote the conservation of biological diversity of ecosystem, habitats and biomes
(i) Setting a target of achieving 33% forest and tree cover by 2012 (at present 23.39%); (ii) Scheme on NPs and WLS modified to cover wildlife habitats outside Pas; (iii) Protection of sacred groves; (iv) Conservation of entities of incomparable value – draft notification issued; (v) Biodiversity heritage sites identified; (vi) Increase in coverage of Pas (661 numbers covering 4.8% geographical area of the country); (vii) Conservation of mangroves and coral reefs; (viii) 15 BRs set up, four with international recognition and 15 more potential sites identified; and (x) regulatory regime for conservation of wetlands under finalization.
Goal 2: Promote conservation of species diversity
(i) Revised NWAP; (ii) NTCA set up; (iii) Species-specific conservation programme undertaken, and sanctuaries for orchids, banana, rhododendron, citrus set up; (iv) Reintroduction of threatened species into their natural habitats, e.g., mass propagation of pitcher plant, rehabilitation of mangroves, relocation of rhinoceros; (v) propagation protocols for regeneration, and promotion of cultivation for conservation of threatened species, LaCONES established at Hyderabad; (iv) Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) set up; (vii) Taxonomy capacity building project; (vii) Assistance to botanic gardens for conservation of endemic and endangered species; and (ix) Sea-ranching of threatened marine species.
Goal 3: Promote the conservation of genetic diversity
(i) National Gene banks for plants, animals, fish and agriculturally important micro-organisms; (ii) Community gene banks by NGOs and others; (iii) Research and on-farm conservation initiatives specifically with regard to medicinal plants.
Goal 4: Promote sustainable use and consumption
(i) Sustainable use ingrained in Indian ethos; (ii) Sustainable use integrated into national decision making through policy statements (NEP, NFP, WLAP, NBAP), laws (EPA, WLPA, BDA, Notification on CRZ, CMZ, EIA, eco-sensitive areas), and programmes (JFM, NAEB, project on household food and nutritional security; (iii) All India coordinated research project on under utilized and under exploited plants; (iv) Honey been network to protect and encourage customary use that has over 10,000 examples of customary innovations of use of traditional knowledge in sustainable management; and (v) As Party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES), international trade of endangered wild species prohibited.
Goal 5: Pressures from habitat loss, degradation reduced
(i) Participatory and sustainable management of degraded forest areas promoted with the help of NGOs, PRIs, etc., through programmes of the NAEB; (ii) Hill area development programme promotes community participation to improve their livelihoods through sustainable use; (iii) Some public and private sector initiatives include reclamation and afforestation of mined-out areas by native species.
Goal 6: Control threats from invasive alien species
(i) Phytosanitory certificates for export, and permits for import of germplasm required under Plant Quarantine Order 2003 and Destructive Insects and Pests (DIP) Act, 1914; (ii) Health certificates for livestock to be exported required under Livestock Importation act, 1898; (iii) Licences required for export of living organism by Director General of Foreign Trade (DGFT); (iv) Quarantine certificates required for export of wild animals/articles under WLP Act; (v) New scheme on integrated forest protection to cover IAS; (vi) Forest Invasive Species Cell set up; and (vii) Implementation of LMO regulations in ballast water exchanges in practice in all major ports.
Goal 7: Address challenges to biodiversity from climate change
(i) NAPCC launched in 2008 under which eight national missions set up for multi-pronged, long term and integrated strategies; (ii) Challenges from pollution addressed through legislative framework contained in EPA, 1986, Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, Water Cess Act, 1977, and Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981; (iii) India has identified five potential trans-boundary Pas along India’s borders with Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal; and (iv)Signatory to Antarctica Treaty – committed to conserve the resources of southern ocean.
Goal 8: Maintain capacity of ecosystems to deliver goods and services and support livelihoods.
(i) Participation of communities for forest conservation through 1,06,000 JFMCs covering 22.02 mha of forest area; and (ii) Substantial increase in coverage area for promoting livelihood opportunities.
Goal 9: Protect traditional knowledge, innovations and practices
(i) Documentation of traditional knowledge (TKDL, PBRs, etc.); (ii) Two new categories of PAs: Community and Conservation Reserves – 45 set up so far; and (iii) Setting up of Biodiversity Management Communities (BMCs) for chronicling of knowledge under BDA.
Goal 10: Ensure fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the use of genetic resources
(i) Enactment and implementation of BDA 2002; (ii) Amendment to the Patent Act, 1970; (iii) PPV &FR Act, 2001; (iv) Geographical Indications Act, 1999 and (v) Contribution to ABS negotiations.
Goal 11: Parties have improved financial, human, scientific, technical and technological capacity to implement the Convention
(i) NEP, 2006; (ii) NBAP, 2008; (iii) Hosting of CBD meetings; (iv) Celebration of the International Day for biological Diversity (IDB); (v) 12 projects on biodiversity for accessing GEF funds; and (vi) Programmes and courses on specialized biodiversity research.