Posts Tagged 'Biodiversity'

Sapt-Konkan – Parashuram Shristi

Sunday article by Mohan Pai

Hello friends,

Good morning. This morning’s topic is Sapt-Konkan, the coastal ecoregion of the Western Ghats, defined by the Purana’s as Sapt-Konkan or “Parashuram Shristi”. And there is a legend about it.

The Western Ghats, older than the Himalayas, have a fascinating geological history. They are the most important feature of the landscape of the southern peninsula and in these same hills we confront our future. Unfortunately they continue to suffer drastic degradation due to human pressure.I have been writing about these mountain ranges for quite some time now. My book “The Western Ghats” was published in 2005. Most of the writings could be accessed in the links given below:For some key chapters from my book “The Western Ghats”, please log on to:

For detailed blog (6 Chapters from my book) on Mahadayi/Mandovi River Valley, please log on to:

For biospoheres & bioregions of the Western Ghats please log on to:

Very best wishes,

Mohan Pai

The Emerald Country

Honda, Sattari, Goa – pic by Mohan Pai

‘Parashuram Shristi’
Konkan, Goa & Karavali

The precise definition of Konkan varies, but most include Maharashtra’s districts of Raigad, Mumbai, Thane, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg, the state of Goa, and the Uttar Kannada, Udupi and Dakshina Kannada districts of Karnataka. Sapt-Konkan is also known as ‘Parashuram Shirsti’; according to the legend, Lord Parashuram, the sixth incarnation of Lord Vishnu stood atop the Sahyadri and shot an arrow into the roaring sea and beyond and created the coastal tract. The Sapta-Konkan as depicted in Skanda-purana stretches from Maharashtra to Karnataka . This is actually logical since there are a lot of similarities in the food-habits (rice and fish), crops cultivated (rice, mangoes, cashews and jackfruit) and the physique (tall and well-built) of people dwelling in this area. Konkan Division is also one of six administrative sub-divisions of the state of Maharashtra, comprising of its costal districts.

Sage Parashuram, a painting

Konkan Ecoregion

An ecoregion is defined as a large area of land or water that contains geographically distinct assemblage of natural communities that
a) share a large majority of their species and ecological dynamics;
b) share similar environmental conditions, and;
c) interact ecologically in ways that are critical for their long term persistence.
Based on these criteria, Konkan division of Maharashtra, Goa and Karavali region of Karnataka form one homogenous ecoregion. Biodiversity ignores national and other political boundaries, so a more relevant conservation planning unit is required.

From the Imperial Gazeteer of India (1907-1909)

Konkan.— A name applied to the Marathi-speaking lowland strip along the southern portion of the Bombay Presidency, situated between the Western Ghats and the sea. The term has no very distinct ad- ministrative signification, and its former geographical limits have become less strictly defined than of old. The coast strip, to which the word is now applied, is a fertile and generally level tract, varying from 1 or 2 to about 50 miles in breadth between the sea and the mountains, with an area of about 12,500 square miles, and, approximately, a population of 3,800,000. It is watered by hill streams, and at parts intersected by tidal backwaters, but has nowhere any great rivers. A luxuriant vegetation of palms rises along the coast, the cocoa-nut plantations forming an important source of wealth to the villagers. Splendid forests cover the Ghats on its eastern boundary. The crops are abundant ; and owing to the monsoon rainfall being precipitated upon the Ghats behind, the Konkan is peculiarly exempt from drought and famine. The common language of the Konkan is Marathi. Kanarese is spoken in the southern part, and a little Gujarathi in the north of Thana. In a geographical sense, the Konkan forms one of the five territorial Divisions of the Bombay Presidency, the others being the Deccan, the Karnatik, Gujarat, and Sind. It includes the town and island of Bombay, the three British Districts of Ratnagiri, Kolaba, and Thana, the three Native States of Jawhar, Janjira, and Sawantwari, and the Portuguese territory of Goa ……The Konkan is bounded by Gujarat on the north, by the Deccan on the east, by North Kanara District on the south, and by the Arabian Sea on the west. The history of the Konkan will best be gathered from a perusal of the historical portions of the separate articles on the included States and Districts. The earliest dynasty connected with the Konkan is that of the Mauryas, who reigned about three centuries before Christ; but the “evidence of the connection rests altogether on vol. viii. T 290 KONKAN, an Asoka inscription discovered at the town of Sopara in Thana District. The dynasties that succeeded were the following, in their order, so far as order is ascertainable : — The Shatakarnis or Andrabhrityas, with their capital at Paitan in the Deccan ; the Mauryas, descendants of the elder house ; the Chalukyas ; the Silaharas, whose capital was perhaps the island of Elephanta in Bombay Harbour ; the Yadavas, with their capital at Deogiri, the modern Daulatabad ; the Muhatn- madans (Khiljis, Bahmanis, Bijapur chiefs, Mughals, and Ahmadabad kings) ; Portuguese commanders (over a limited area) ; Marathas ; and British. The principal incidents in the annals of the Konkan are of modern interest. The Konkan coast was known to the peoples of Greece and Rome, and both Ptolemy (150 a.d.) and the author of the Periplus (247 a.d.) afford evidence that Greek traders from Egypt dealt with the Konkan ports. Many of these last are named by the Greek geographers ; and while the modern representative of the ancient town has been in many instances identified, in others the ingenuity of conjecture is still employed. To take one or two examples, it is yet a matter of uncertainty whether Byzantium is the Konkan pirate fort of Vijayadrug ; whether the word Chersonesus refers to Goa, or whether the term Heptanesia relates to the islands that stud the modern harbour of Bombay. The arrival of the Beni-Israel and the Parsis from the Persian Gulf and Persia are important incidents in Konkan history. The Beni-Israel, whom high authority has not hesitated to call the descendants of the lost tribes of Israel, are found all over Bombay Presidency. The descendants of the first Parsis, who landed in Thana about the 7th century, now crowd the streets and markets of Bombay, engross a large part of the city’s wealth and principal trading operations, and have their agents in all important provincial towns.

Vasco da Gama landing at Kappad.

The Portuguese reached Malabar in 1498, and fixed the head-quarters of their naval dominion at Cheul or Chaul. In 1510, Goa was seized, and from this time until 1630 the Portuguese shared the rule of the Konkan with the Muhammadan kings of Ahmadnagar and Bijapur. The rise and fall of the pirate power of the Angres, who fixed themselves in the island strongholds of Kolaba, Suvarndriig, and Gheria or Vijayadrug, and from 1700 to 1756 harassed English, Dutch, and native shipping alike, mark a disastrous period of Konkan history. Since the British administration was set up in 1818 on the overthrow of the Marathas, the peace of the whole area, if some disturbances in Sawantwari in 1844 and 1850 be excepted, has remained unbroken. The great city and harbour of Bombay are situated about one-third down the length of the Konkan from the north. The Portuguese territory of Goa used to form its southern limit ; but the District of North Kanara has been transferred from Madras to the Bombay Pi and now constitutes the southernmost District of the D as the Konkan.

Imperial Gazetteer map of Konkan

Physical Aspects, Natural History, and Geology.- -The folio paragraphs have been condensed from a short mon< physical features of the Konkan, by Major J. II. Lloyd, the coast of the Konkan from seaward, the traveller sees him a wild-looking country consisting of a confused mass of hills exhibiting every shade of brown, red, and purple ; in some far down to the sea, in others receding and giving space along the for tracts of rice cultivation, or belts of cocoanut and palm. In the foreground the sea beating on the rocks sets off the picture with a fringe of surf, interrupted at intervals where the coastline is bf by the mouths of creeks and rivers, and far in the background there rests on the line of Ghats, blocking the distant horizon with a long cession of peaks, bluffs, and domes — cool and grey in the morn, misty and indistinct under the glare of noonday, and glowing with pink and violet as the great trap precipices catch the rays of the setting sun. As regards its geology, the Konkan is a country, broadly speak u stratified primary rocks. The hills are composed of layers of trap varying in composition, and capped by a stratum of laterite, while the alluvial soil of the valleys is the result of the disintegration and decomposition of these rocks carried down by drainage from the hills. On the shores of the salt marshes, locally known as Khar, and along the tidal portion of the rivers which empty themselves into the Arabian Sea, the soil is a stiff blue clay which, when red from the action of the sea, is capable of being converted into considerable value. The narrow strip of sand along the i on what geologists term littoral concrete, which bears the vari- • of the palm tree, date, and palmyra in the north, cocoanut and nut in the south. The annual rainfall of the Konkan is estimated over 100 inches; and this rainfall added to the enormous water thrown off the face of the Western Ghats during the the whole traversing the region to the sea, accounts for the numerous rivers and streams in which the Konkan abounds. The face of the country presents throughout the dry months parched and barren appearance ; but this air of sterility is higher ground is reached. In the open cultivated tracts are sun-baked rice-fields, dried-up streams, and occasional groves with their denizen cattle egrets, noisy koels, and active squirrels. In the loi are found forests of teak (Tectona grandis), ain (Terrain tosa), kinjal (Terminalia paniculata) …

Climate & Vegetation

The climate of the Sapt-Konkan shows two rainfall gradients.

The West-East Gradient
The west-east rainfall gradient is determined by the effect of Ghats’ escarpment. The reliefs of the Ghats act as a barrier to the eastward movement of the cloud masses brought by the summer monsoon rain-bearing winds of the south-west monsoon.
These masses bring prodigious amount of rainfall over the western slopes of the Ghats. For instance in Agumbe (height 645 m) which is situated at the edge of the Ghats, the mean annual rainfall is 7,460 mm, and in some years it exceeds 12,000 mm in only 130 rainy days. Overall the western slopes receive 2,000 to 7,500 mm of rainfall.


Once this obstacle is crossed, the rainfall decreases rapidly to < 800 mm towards the interior plateau of the east within a distance of 7 to 60 km from 7,500 mm to 4,000 mm within 15 km, and to 2,000 mm within 50 km. Further north towards the latitude of Goa, the decrease is even more drastic: 25 km after the summit of the Ghats the rainfall is insufficient to support the evergreen formations. Moist deciduous forest prevail here, and 30 km further east they are replaced by dry deciduous formations. This decrease results in the isolation of moist formations which are confined to humid regions with a rainfall of generally more than 2,000 mm, i.e., in a narrow belt between the coast and 20-40 km beyond the Ghats’ edge. However, in some cases, edaphic compensation (specially better moisture holding capacity of soils) enables the maintenance of evergreen formations even when the rainfall is somewhat lower – the ‘kan’ forests of Karnataka plateau are an example of this phenomenon.

The South-North Gradient
An important feature of the Western Ghats is that they form more or less continuous chain of hills with a latitudinal extent of almost 12 degrees. This has few parallels in the tropical world(eastern part of Madagascar and Queensland in Australia). The monsoon, the very pulse of India, adds yet another dimension : the duration of the dry season gradually increases from two months in the southern parts of the Ghats to over eight months north of Mumbai. This gradient is determined by the arrival and withdrawal of the summer monsoon.
The monsoon generally arrives towards the end of May at the southern tip of India, in the first week of June at Tiruvananthpuram, five days later it reaches Karwar, in another five days it has already crossed Mumbai and by middle of June it is beyond Kutch. Thus it takes only 10-15 days to cover the Indian peninsula from 80 N to the Tropic of Cancer.
The monsoon begins to retreat by the end of September in north India but it takes nearly 15 days for the front to withdraw from Kutch to Ratnagiri which it reaches in the beginning of October, in another 15 days it covers 400 km, the distance separating Ratnagiri from Coondapur. The front passes through Mangalore at the beginning of November and Kozikode in a fortnight, and reaches Kanyakumari only in early December. Thus the withdrawal is spread over a period of nearly two and a half months. The advance and specially the gradual withdrawal of the monsoon leads to a reduction in the rainy period from south to north and consequently a concomitant lengthening of dry season. This gradient is one of the key factors for understanding the variations in the floristic composition along the Ghats.

Vegetation Types 

Wet Evergreen Forests
Wet evergreen forests are mostly confined to the windward side of the Ghats where the rainfall exceeds 2,000 mm. The deep valleys on the western windward side nurture closed canopy, stratified evergreen forests. These are arranged in a series of tiers. Each tier receives a different amount of light; the tallest trees are bathed in perpetual sunlight, smaller trees and shrubs receive dappled light. The forest floor is almost in complete darkness. The canopy is supposed to be closed because the contiguous crown of tall buttressed trees merge to form a veritable roof. Occasionally, giant trees termed as emergents push through the canopy to obtain dominant position. Light, temperature and humidity differ at different heights beneath the canopy. Two or more strata of shade loving trees find the appropriate level at which light intensity and relative humidity are best suited for their metabolic activities.
The density of growth in these hot and humid jungles is so great that over 70 tall trees can exist in one hectare. These trees may be 35-45 m high and have evolved small narrow leaves to minimise moisture loss through evaporation. The lower growing plants have larger leaves in order to maximise the benefit of the little light that manages to penetrate. At every level, leaves tend to be narrow with drain-like tips so that the monsoon water flows off efficiently. This makes it possible for the leaf to remain relatively dry and ‘breath The forests are in leaf throughout the year and hence termed evergreen. These trees shed their leaves at a slow and steady rate throughout the year, which results in continuous decay and decomposition on the forest floor which is full of leaf litter and decaying wood on which mushrooms, lichen and fungi thrive. In the relative gloom of the forest floor herbs are frequent with good representative of gingers and orchids. Climbers and lianas supported by sturdy trees, spiral towards the canopy in search of better light and fresh air..

Dry Evergreen Forests
The steep eastern slopes of the Ghats where the rainfall is less than 1,500 mm harbour dry vegetation types. However, in the relatively moist valleys and along streams, forests are evergreen and distinct in floristic composition with its counterpart on the western side. Physiognomic structure of these forests varies according to moisture level of the soil. Generally they are short forests, with a canopy seldom higher than 12 m, and with two strata.

Moist Deciduous forests
Moist deciduous forests, which are in primary nature, are found in the rainfall zone of 1,500 mm to 1,800 mm; as a transition between wet evergreen and dry deciduous forests. Large extent of these forests occurs in the Wayanad, Mysore and Karnataka plateau. Moist deciduous forests also occur within the potential area of wet evergreen formations, where the rainfall is more than 2,000 mm. Its very presence in the zone indicates their secondary nature after a possible degradation of original wet evergreen forests. On the leeward rain shadow side as well as on the coastal lowlands there are fairly long dry periods. Moist deciduous trees survive the rigours of the dry months by shedding all their leaves simultaneously to avoid loss of water through transpiration.
During the leafless period the trees carry on their reproductive cycle by spectacular flowering followed by abundant fruiting. With the pre-monsoon showers, a flush of fresh leaves appears to herald the beginning of a fresh annual cycle. A number of good timber trees are found in these open canopy forests.

Climatic Variations and Endemics

The high degree of endemism in the evergreen forests of the Western Ghats can be attributed to the isolation of the Ghats from other moist formations and the prevailing drier climatic conditions in the surrounding areas. This isolation seems to have facilitated the process of speciation (formation of new biological species) leading to the phenomenon of vicariance between sister species derived from a common ancestor, one of which thrives in the evergreen forests of the Ghats and the other in the adjacent dry regions (for example Diospyros assimilis in the moist evergreen forests and D. Ebenum in dry forests).
South of Kodagu, the Western Ghats are comprised largely of high ranging hills with several enclaves which formed ideal refugia for certain species when the climatic conditions became drier . Within the Ghats, the variation in the degree of endemism is mainly determined by
a) the increase in the number of dry months from south to north and
b) the decrease in the temperature with increase in altitude. These two gradients also explain the numerous cases of vicariance encountered within the evergreen continuum. Local topographic variations add another dimension to the floristic diversity and endemism.

CASHEW APPLE: The nuts are first removed andprocessed and have a large local as well as exportmarket. The cashew apple is first smashed, and then fermented to be made into the famous liquor- the Cashew Feni.

Traditional Horticulture

The main crops of the traditional horticulture of the region are Coconut, Betel nut, Cashewnut, Banana, Jackfruit, Mango, Bhirand or Kokum, Pineapple and a variety of gourds.
The Kadambas (1000-1350 AD) and later the Governors of Vijayanagar promoted mango orchards in this region. Although crude methods of grafting were already known in India, the Jesuits helped perfect the art of mango grafting in Goa.

Seaside Vegetation & Mangroves

The marshy areas, the swampy places where the sea comes in high tide, or where a river finally empties itself into the ocean, these are the places where many kinds of fish come to spawn. Often these areas are very large; trees do not grow here, for salt water washes over them, or floods them regularly; the loose muddy sand shifts easily, and the only plants which can take hold are mangroves with their long spreading roots. The mangrove bushes prove their worth during a storm, for they break its force; in a rough sea the mangrove belt acts as a ‘buffer’ and prevents erosion and keeps the coastline in tact. The mangrove vegetation has to survive on the scorching, shifting and saline sands. Trailing stems, fleshy leaves, salt excreting glands are some of the aids for their survival. The mangroves in the slushy estuaries have special features to overcome the difficulties of their habitat. The mangrove trees and shrubs anchor themselves against the push and pull of the tides by stilt roots. Air in the marshy soil is meagre. The trees often turn their breathing roots upwards in search of fresh air. The seedlings of mangrove trees remain attached to the parent plant until they have a chance of surviving on their own. They fix themselves like darts in the marshy saline slush to avoid being washed away by the sea until they have a chance of surviving on their own. If we remove the mangroves, the coast is exposed to the danger and damage from storms and rough seas.

A number of factors have been responsible for the depletion of wetland areas, mainly the mangrove forests, along the coasts. Intensive aquacultural development, deforestation, pollution from tankers, domestic waste, agricultural run off and industrial effluents are some of the factors. Most of the surviving mangroves are now confined to West Bengal and the islands in the Bay of Bengal. Some of these have been responsible for the protection of certain endangered species of turtles, crocodiles and the rare fresh water sponge.

Sacred Groves and Sacred Trees

Many traditional societies all over the world revered and worshipped nature and considered certain plants and animals as sacred. India has a long tradition in protecting nature – both plants and animals considered as sacred. Forests have been the lifeline for tribals and other forest dwelling communities since ages. Communities all over India followed the practice of setting aside certain patches of land or forest dedicated to a deity or village God, protected and worshipped.
The forest deities are generally of a primitive nature. Sometimes in the form of unshaped stone lumps smeared with red paint – Kalkai in the Konkan, Kenchamma in South Kanara. They are amongst the fiercest of deities; and breaking even a dead twig in a sacred grove is sure to invite the wrath of the deity. Sacred groves are to be found all over the country and abundantly along the Western Ghats and the west coast. Sacred groves ranged from 50 hectares or

A sacred grove in Goa

more to a few hundred square meters. Some sacred groves have remained in tact till recent times as in the Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts of Karnataka. These pockets have contributed to the preservation of tropical biological diversity, for several new species of plants which have disappeared from everywhere else have been found to be preserved in the sacred groves. Sacred groves in different areas are locally known by different names. In Maharashtra, they are known as Devarai, Devarakavu in Kodagu, Kavu in Kerala and Kan in Uttara Kannada. In spite of the depletion of forests, some sacred groves still remain in-tact. The sacred groves have contributed to the conservation of nature though in a small measure. There are also sacred ponds attached to temples in many parts of India.

Severity of Threats
The major threats to this ecoregion stem from agriculture, mining, hydroelectric projects, and urban expansion. All of these overarching threats are widespread throughout the bioregion. Most of the commercially valuable trees in this ecoregion have already been harvested (IUCN 1991), and ironically, logging is not a significant threat. The paper pulp, plywood, and fiber industries and sawmills were the major consumers of timber and bamboo in the past. Mining for iron and manganese ore are now large contributors to habitat destruction.
Tree frog
Many of the valleys that supported large stands of species-rich forests have been submerged by reservoirs created by the construction of hydroelectric dams. In addition to this inundation of large areas, the secondary activities associated with dam construction, such as road building, access and encroachment into the intact forests, settlements, and fuelwood collection, have exacerbated habitat loss and degradation. The important riparian habitat is the first to be lost during these development enterprises. Many of the remaining forest patches that harbor endemic species are being converted to rubber, areca, and coffee plantations.Fuelwood and fodder collection, grazing, and collection of nonwood forest products are intensifying as rural populations grow. The grasslands of this ecoregion are highly vulnerable to fire, and frequent fires retard the growth and regeneration of shola forests. The degraded habitat is then colonized by the exotic Lantana camera and Eupatorium odorata, which inhibit regeneration of native vegetation.The prevalence of guns, used for crop protection among the people, encourages widespread poaching.

Gavali tribal woman

The West Coast south of Surat runs parallel to the great escarpment of the Western Ghats for its entire length of about 1,600 km culminating at Cape Comorin. The Sapta-Konkan approximately occupies 900 km of the entire Ghat’s coast. The straight looking coast is however quite jagged, marked by a large number of coves (small sheltered recesses in the coast) and creeks(small tidal inlets or estuaries of small streams). A large number of small streams descend from the precipitous Western Ghats and flow through the narrow coastal plain to open into the Arabian Sea.

A typical view of the Konkan, consisting of white-sand beaches and palm trees (mostly coconut and betel nut).

Although the streams are small, some of them have formed spectacular waterfalls. The Konkan coastal plain is cliffy and there are several shoals, reefs and islands in the Arabian Sea. Mumbai was a large island but parts of the sea have been reclaimed in recent years to connect it with the mainland. There is a submerged forest near Mumbai which suggests that the sea level rose on the Konkan coast not long ago. The coastal plain is dotted with flat-topped hills. Transverse flat-looped spurs come down almost to the shoreline from the edge of the plateau and dip into the sea at Karwar, the northern part of Karnataka. These appear to be abrasional platforms, now dissected by the west flowing streams.

Mahadayi River at Sonal, Goa – pic by Mohan Pai.

Although the Ghats run parallel to the coast, the width of the coastal lowland varies. At Konkan it is about 50 to 60 km wide. From Goa to Kozhikode, the width of the coastal zone is more variable than in Maharashtra.

The Sahyadris dip into the Arabian Sea at Karwar

It is about 40 km wide at the latitude of Goa and then suddenly narrows near Karwar where the Ghats almost meet the sea. To the south of 140N, the coastal zone now called Dakshina Kannada, widens once more to almost 80 km south of Mangalore. The coastal region after Kodagu, known as Malabar, is not more than 30 km wide up to the latitude of Kozhikode. From here it widens out to about 60 km near Palghat Gap.
Satodi falls, Karavali

A Coast of Maritime Legends

The maritime history of the West Coast of India predates the birth of Western Civilisation. The world’s first tidal dock is believed to have been built at Lothal around 2,300 BC during the Harappan civilisation near the present day Mangrol harbour on the Gujarat coast. Even before Alexander, there were references to India in Greek works and India had a flourishing trade with Rome. Roman writer Pliny speaks of Indian traders carrying away large quantities of gold from Rome, in payment for much sought exports such as precious stones, skins, textiles, spices, sandal wood, perfumes, herbs and indigo. It was the lure of spices that attracted traders from the Middle East and Europe to the many trading ports in Sapt-Konkan.

Memorial to Vasco da Gama, Kappad

From the earliest times, the West Coast had developed a considerable shipbuilding industry, specialised in building large vessels. There are several accounts of such activities including that of Marco Polo who has described the Indian built ships. European interest in India has persisted since classical times and for very cogent reasons. Europe had much to derive from India such as spices, textiles and other Oriental products. When direct contact was lost with the fall of Rome and the rise of the Muslims, the trade was carried on through middlemen. In the late Middle Ages it increased with the prosperity of Europe. Spice trade was not solely a luxury trade – spices were needed to preserve meat through the winter (cattle had to be slaughtered in late autumn through lack of fodder in winter) and to combat the taste of decay. Wine, in the absence of ancient or modern methods of maturing, had to be ‘mulled’ with spices. This trade suffered two threats in the later Middle ages. There was the threat of Mongol and Turkish Invasion which interfered with the land route through Egypt, and there was the threat of monopoly shared between the Venetians and Egyptians. The Arabs controlled the spice trade with India since the end of the 12th century AD. During the 15th century Spain and Portugal, the then main maritime powers of Europe initiated a series of expeditions with Royal patronage. While one such voyage led to the discovery of West Indies by Columbus, another voyage brought the Portugese to India, the El Dorado.
Fisher women at Britona, Goa -pic by Mohan Pai

Political divisions

The Konkan division is an administrative sub-division of Maharashtra which comprises all the coastal districts of the state with a coastline of about 500 km. The region starts with Damanganga river in the north and extends to Terekhol river in the south.Area: 30,746 km² Population (2001 census): 24,807,357 Districts: Mumbai, Mumbai Suburban, Raigad, Ratnagiri, Sindhudurg, Thane.

History of administrative districts in Konkan Division
There have been changes in the names of Districts and has seen also the addition of newer districts after India gained Independence in 1947 and also after the state of Maharashtra was formed.In 1961 the Konkan region became a part of the newly formed state of Maharashtra. Prior to this it was a part of Bombay province which was split to form Gujarat and Maharashtra. Creation of the Sindhudurg from the southern areas of the Ratnagiri district. The erstwhile Kolaba district was renamed as Raigad. A proposal to carve Jawhar district out of Thane District is being considered on account of its high tribal population.

Water sports – pic by Mohan Pai

Goa encompasses an area of 3,702 km² (1,430 sq mile). It lies between the latitudes 14°53’54” N and 15°40’00” N and longitudes 73°40’33” E and 74°20’13” E. Goa has a coastline of 101 km (63 miles).The Mormugao harbor on the mouth of the river Zuari is one of the best natural harbors Goa has more than forty estuarine, eight marine and about ninety riverine islands.
Idalcao Palace, Panaji

The total navigable length of Goa’s rivers is 253 km (157 miles).Most of Goa’s soil cover is made up of laterites which are rich in ferric aluminium oxides and reddish in color. Further inland and along the river banks, the soil is mostly alluvial and loamy. The soil is rich in minerals and humus, thus conducive to plantation. Some of the oldest rocks in the Indian subcontinent are found in Goa between Molem and Anmod on Goa’s border with Karnataka. The rocks are classified as Trondjemeitic Gneiss estimated to be 3,600 million years old, dated by the Rubidium isotope dating method.


Karavali is the geographical area covered by sea-coast of Karnataka. This region is also called Canara. Karavali forms the sourthen part of the Konkan Coast and comprisesthree coastal districts of Karnataka, namely Uttara Kannada, Udupi and Dakshina Kannada. The length of this region, from north to south is around 300 Kms and width varies from 30 Kms to 110 Kms.

Om Beach, Gokarna

The region is characterised by swaying palms and swift brooks running towards the Arabian sea.Even though many languages are spoken like Tulu, Konkani and to some extent Kannada there are many common factors in food, culture, rituals, traditions. Rice, fish and coconut oil are commonly used ingredients in the food of the people of Karavali region. Spirit worship (Bhuta Kola), Serpent worship (Nagaradhane), Buffalo race (Kambala), Yakshagana are some of common traditional rituals followed.Major ethnic groups are the Tuluvas and konkanis.The main languages spoken in this area are Tulu and Konkani. The northern half is predominantly Konkani and the southern half is predominantly Tulu. The majority of the people follow Hinduism. Other religions practiced include Christanity and Islam. While the Tulu speakers are exclusively Hindus, Christians are almost exclusively Konkani speakers. This region has many sites of Hindu pilgrimage including Kollur, Dharmasthala, Udupi Srikrishna Math (Temple), Kateel, Murdeshwara, and Gokarna. The main occupation of the natives is farming and fishing. Fish is the staple diet of the people living in this region. Coconut is used generously in all the dishes. The region has abundant rainfall, recording average annual rainfall among the highest in India.

Sunday article by Mohan Pai

 Extinction is forever !

Over 99% of the species that ever lived are now extinct.

Mass extinction exhibits a cyclic nature. 5 major extinctions that occurred during the last 540 million years of earth history wiped out most living species.

Mass extinction is a sharp decrease in the number of species in a relatively short period of time. Mass extinctions affect most major taxonomic groups present at the time — birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, invertebrates and other simpler life forms. They may be caused by one or both of:
*extinction of an unusually large number of species in a short period.
*a sharp drop in the rate of speciation.
 Over 99% of species that ever lived are now extinct, but extinction occurs at an uneven rate. Based on the fossil record, the background rate of extinctions on Earth is about two to five taxonomic families of marine invertebrates and vertebrates every million years. Marine fossils are mostly used to measure extinction rates because they are more plentiful and cover a longer time span than fossils of land organisms. Since life began on earth, several major mass extinctions have significantly exceeded the background extinction rate. The most recent, the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event, occurred 65 million years ago, and has attracted more attention than all others as it marks the extinction of nearly all dinosaur species, which were the dominant animal class of the period. In the past 540 million years there have been five major events when over 50% of animal species died. There probably were mass extinctions in the Archean and Proterozoic Eons, but before the Phanerozoic there were no animals with hard body parts to leave a significant fossil record.
 Estimates of the number of major mass extinctions in the last 540 million years range from as few as five to more than twenty. These differences stem from the threshold chosen for describing an extinction event as “major”, and the data chosen to measure past diversity.
 Extinction cycles
It has been suggested by several sources that biodiversity and/or extinction events may be influenced by cyclic processes. The best-known hypothesis of extinction events by a cyclic process is the 26M to 30M year cycle in extinctions proposed by Raup and Sepkoski (1986). More recently, Rohde and Muller (2005) have suggested that biodiversity fluctuates primarily on 62 ± 3 million year cycles.Much early work in this area also suffered from the poor accuracy of geological dating, where errors often exceed 10M years. However, improvements in radiometric dating have reduced the scale of uncertainty to at most 4M years – theoretically adequate for studying these processes.
The concept of periodicity has important implications for determining which factors cause extinction. Hypotheses invoking catastrophism have particularly been advanced utilizing this concept, which imply extra-terrestrial forces as extinction-causing agents. This is because only astronomical forces are known to operate on such a precise periotic time schedule. Contrary to catastrophism are hypotheses which focus on gradualism. These gradualistic hypotheses invoke various terrestrial extinction mechanisms including volcanism, glaciation, global climatic change, and changes in sea level. Most recently hypotheses centered on the new non-linear science of complexity have emerged. Under these hypotheses species-species interactions lead to occasional instability resulting in cascades which may ripple through entire ecosystems, with potentially devastating results.

Major extinction events
The classical “Big Five” mass extinctions: End Ordovician, Late Devonian, End Permian, End Triassic, and End Cretaceous. The Holocene extinction event is referred to as the Sixth Extinction.
Cretaceous-Tertiary. 65 million years ago, the dinosaurs were wiped out in a ma extinction that killed nearly a fifth of land vertebrate families, 16% of marine families and nearly half of all marine animals.
End of Triassic. About 200 million years ago, lava floods erupting from the central Atlantic are thought to have created lethal global warming, killing off more than a fifth of all marine families and half of marine genera.
Permian-Triassic. The worst mass extinction took place 250 million years ago, killing 95% of all species.
Late Devonian. About 360 million years ago, a fifth of marine families were wiped out, alongside more than half of all marine genera.
Ordovician-Silurian. About 440 million years ago, a quarter of all marine families were wiped out.

Most widely supported Causes
The most often cited as causes of mass extinctions are:
*Flood basalt events: 11 occurrences, all associated with significant extinctions.
*Sea-level falls: 12, of which 7 were associated with significant extinctions
*Asteroid impacts producing craters over 100km wide: one, associated with one mass extinction. *Asteroid impacts producing craters less than 100km wide: over 50, the great majority not associated with significant extinctions.
Evolutionary importance
Mass extinctions have sometimes accelerated the evolution of life on earth. When dominance of particular ecological niches passes from one group of organisms to another, it is rarely because the new dominant group is “superior” to the old and usually because an extinction event eliminates the old dominant group and makes way for the new one.For example mammaliformes (“almost mammals”) and then mammals existed throughout the reign of the dinosaurs, but could not compete for the large terrestrial vertebrate niches which dinosaurs monopolized. The end-Cretaceous mass extinction removed the non-avian dinosaurs and made it possible for mammals to expand into the large terrestrial vertebrate niches. Many groups which survive mass extinctions do not recover in numbers or diversity, and many of these go into long-term decline.
Sixth Mass Extinction is NOW !
There is little doubt left in the minds of professional biologists that Earth is currently faced with a mounting loss of species that threatens to rival the five great mass extinctions of the geological past.
The classical “Big Five” mass extinctions are End Ordovician, Late Devonian, End Permian, End Triassic, and End Cretaceous. The Holocene extinction event is referred to as the Sixth Extinction, that is the extinction event that is taking place NOW !
A study published in the international journal Conservation Biology reveals a sorry and worsening picture of habitat destruction and species loss. It also describes the deficiencies of and opportunities for governmental action to lessen this mounting regional and global problem. The review highlights destruction and degradation of ecosystems as the main threat.
A study published in the international journal Conservation Biology reveals a sorry and worsening picture of habitat destruction and species loss. It also describes the deficiencies of and opportunities for governmental action to lessen this mounting regional and global problem. The review highlights destruction and degradation of ecosystems as the main threat.

According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, 2008
*Nearly 17,000 of the world’s 45,000 assessed species are threatened with extinction (38 percent). Of these, 3,246 are in the highest category of threat, Critically Endangered, 4,770 are Endangered and 8,912 are Vulnerable to extinction.
*Nearly 5,500 animal species are known to be threatened with extinction and at least 1,141 of the 5,487 known mammal species are threatened worldwide.
*In 2008, nearly 450 mammals were listed as Endangered, including the Tasmanian Devil (Sarcophilus harrisii), after the global population declined by more than 60 percent in the last 10 years.
*Scientists have catalogued relatively little about the rest of the world’s fauna: only 5 percent of fish, 6 percent of reptiles, and 7 percent of amphibians have been evaluated. Of those studied, at least 750 fish species, 290 reptiles, and 150 amphibians are at risk.
*The average extinction rate is now some 1,000 to 10,000 times faster than the rate that prevailed over the past 60 million years.

The Passenger Pigeon
In Michigan during a single hunt in 1878 an estimated 1,000 million birds were destroyed at nesting sites. On September 1, 1914 the last Passenger Pigeon named Martha died in captivity in the Cincinnati Zoo.
 Indian Vultures
In India, the White backed vulture population was estimated at 30 million birds in 1992. Today, it is a mere 11,000 birds and falling due to Diclofenac poisoning.

Extinction is irreversible.
This has been part of the evolutionary process which has produced more advanced forms of life – a process that has occurred over a vast span of time over millions of years. The greatest contribution of Charles Darwin, who propounded the Theory of Evolution, in his logical explanation for evolutionary changes and appearance of new form of life – natural selection – the success of those organisms that are capable of adapting to the environment, to survive and reproduce.

One of the world’s rarest birds and an almost extinct species, today lessthan 200 birds survive!

In India, the Cheetah, the lesser one-horned rhinoceros, the pink- headed duck and the mountain quail have become extinct in the last one century.

The Sangai, the brow-antlered deer is found only in Manipur and only 162 animals survive.
Many mammals and birds have become rare and endangered and many a natural range diminished in size with increasing deforestation, often confining the animals to small territories.
The Golden Toad of Monteverde, Costa Rica was among the first casualties of amphibian decline. Formerly abundant, it was last seen in 1989.

References: Wikipedia, J. C. Daniel (’Extinction is for ever’), IUCN Red List,, Mohan Pai.

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Biodiversity – Noah’s Ark

69. Biodiversity – Noah’s Ark – An article by Mohan – July 2009


Hello friends,

Good morning.

This Sunday’s article ‘Noah’s Ark’ was actually written for the World Environment Day (5.6.09) but for some reason could not be completed in time. Conservation of the biodiversity of our planet earth is now becoming a very serious and an urgent issue. We will have to build a
Noah’s Ark fast to save the species which are becoming extinct in
thousands and the loss of biodiversity puts the future of human kind
itself  in a jeopardy. Please read on.

Very best wishes,

Mohan Pai

Noah’s Ark
or Manu & the Fish

“With more and more species threatened with extinction by the flood that is today’s global economy, we may be the first generation in human history that literally has to act like Noah – to save the last pair of a wide range of species. Or as God commanded Noah in Genesis “ And every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female” – Thomas L. Friedman
 Native global flood stories are documented as history or legend in almost every region on earth. Old world missionaries reported their amazement at finding remote tribes already possessing legends with tremendous similarities to the Bible’s accounts of the worldwide flood. H.S. Bellamy in Moons, Myths and Men estimates that altogether there are over 500 Flood legends worldwide. Ancient civilizations such as (China, Babylonia, Wales, Russia, India, America, Hawaii, Scandinavia, Sumatra, Peru, and Polynesia) all have their own versions of a giant flood.
These flood tales are frequently linked by common elements that parallel the Biblical account including the warning of the coming flood, the construction of a boat in advance, the storage of animals, the inclusion of family, and the release of birds to determine if the water level had subsided. The overwhelming consistency among flood legends found in distant parts of the globe indicates they were derived from the same origin, but oral transcription has changed the details through time.
Perhaps the second most important historical account of a global flood can be found in a Babylonian flood story in the Epic of Gilgamesh. When the Biblical and Babylonian accounts are compared, a number of outstanding similarities are found that leave no doubt these stories are rooted in the same event or oral tradition.
Matsya Avatar

Manu – the Indian myth

The Matsya Avatara of Lord Vishnu is said to have appeared to King Manu (whose original name was Satyavrata), the then King of Dravida, while he washed his hands in a river. This river was supposed to have been flowing down the Malaya Mountains in his land of Dravida. According to the Matsya Purana, his ship is supposed to have been perched after the deluge on the top of this Malaya Mountains. (This land or kingdom of Dravida that was ruled over by Satyavrata or Manu might have been an original, greater Dravida, that might have stretched from Madagascar and East Africa in the west to Southernmost India and further to Southeast Asia and Australia in the east.) The little fish asked the king to save It, upon his doing so, kept growing bigger and bigger. It also informed the King of a huge flood which would occur soon. The King builds a huge boat, which houses his family, 9 types of seeds, and animals to repopulate the earth after the deluge occurs and the oceans and seas recede.This story is to an extent similar to other deluge stories, like those of Gilgamesh from ancient Sumerian Mythology, and the story of Noah’s ark from Judeo-Christianity.

With the human population expected to reach 9-10 billion by the end of the century and the planet in the middle of its sixth mass extinction this time due to human activity the next few years are critical in conserving Earth’s precious biodiversity. It is our generation and our civilization that is responsible for causing the flood of commercial development which is causing Global Warming and pollution that could wipe out much of the world’s biodiversity.

To quote E. O. Wilson “Except from giant meteorite strikes or other catastrophes every 100 million years or so, Earth has never experienced anything like the contemporary human juggernaut. With the global species extinction rate now exceeding the global species birthrate at least a hundredfold, and soon to increase ten times that much, and with the birthrate falling through the loss of sites where evolution can occur; the number of species is plummeting. The original level of biodiversity is not likely to be regained in any period of time that has meaning for the human mind.”
Since Man is causing this flood, it also now becomes his responsibility to build the Ark that is needed to preserve life on the earth.

Let us consider the following facts:

During the past 150 years, humans have directly impacted and altered close to 47% of the global land area.

Under one bleak scenario, biodiversity will be threatened on almost 72% of Earth’s land area by 2032.

48% of South East Asia, the Congo Basin, and parts of the Amazon will likely be converted to agricultural land, plantations and urban areas — compared with 22% today, suggesting wide depletions of biodiversity.

Starting some 45,000 years ago a high proportion of larger land animals became extinct in North America, Australia, the Caribbean, and elsewhere, coinciding with human arrival.

The current textbook definition of “biodiversity” is “variation of life at all levels of biological organization”.

Biodiversity can be defined as the totality of life on earth. It’s a vast field, encompassing all the world’s ecosystems, all the plant and animal species that populate those ecosystems, and all the genes that make up the hereditary material of each living species. To get some inkling of the vastness of the topic I am reproducing below E. O. Wilson’s speech given at the Explorer’s Club on March 18, 2006:

What is left to explore?

Why, the biosphere of course, that razor-thin membrane of life plastered to the surface of Earth so thin it can’t be seen edgewise from an orbiting space vehicle yet still the most complex entity by far we know in the universe. How well do we understand this part of the world? Proportionately not very much. We live on a little-known planet. Let me give you some examples. The best-studied animals are the birds, which have been carefully collected by naturalists and explorers for centuries. Nevertheless, an average of 3 new species are added each year to the 10,000 already described by scientists. Comparable to them are the flowering plants: about 280,000 species known out of 320,000 or more estimated to exist. From there it goes steeply downhill. You’d think that the amphibians—that is, frogs, salamanders, and caecilians—would be comparable to the birds, but in fact they are still poorly explored: from 1985 to 2001, 1,530 new species were added to the 5,300 already found, an increase of over one-fourth, and with more new species pouring in.

When we next move to the invertebrates, what I like to call the little things that run the world, we get a fuller glimpse of the depth of our ignorance. Consider nematode worms, the almost microscopic wriggling creatures that teem as free-living forms and parasites everywhere, on the land and in the sea. They are the most abundant animals on Earth. Four out of every five animals on Earth is a nematode worm. If you were to make all of the solid matter on the surface of Earth invisible except for the nematode worms, you still could see its outline in nematode worms. About 16,000 species are known to science; the number estimated actually to exist by specialists is over 1.5 million. Almost certainly the world’s ecosystems and our own lives depend on these little creatures, but we know absolutely nothing about the vast majority. To continue: about 900,000 kinds of insects are known to science (I’ve just finished describing 340 new species of ants myself, for example) but the true global number could easily exceed 5 million. How many kinds of plants, animals, and microorganisms make up the biosphere? Somewhere between 1.5 and 1.8 million species have been discovered and given a Latinized scientific name. How many species actually exist? It is an amazing fact that we do not know to the nearest order of magnitude how many exist. It could be as low as 10 million or as high as 100 million or more.

Those of us in biodiversity studies say that we have knowledge of only about 10 percent of the kinds of organisms on Earth. The nematodes and insects and invertebrates all shrink in diversity before the bacteria and archaea, the dark matter of planet Earth. Roughly 6,000 species of bacteria are known. That many can be found in the 10 billion bacterial cells in a single gram, a handful, of soil—virtually all still unknown to science. It’s been recently estimated that a ton of fertile soil supports 4 million species of bacteria. We believe each one is exquisitely adapted to a particular niche, as a result of long periods of evolution. We don’t know what those niches are. What we do know is that we depend on those organisms for our existence. A search is on right now at least for the bacteria that live in the human mouth. The number of species adapted to that environment so far is 700. These bacteria are friendly; they appear to function as symbionts that keep disease-causing bacteria from invading. For those species your mouth is a continent. They dwell on the mountain ridges of a tooth; they travel long distances into the deep valleys of your gums; they wash back and forth in the ocean tides of your saliva. I’m not suggesting that we give an Explorer’s Club flag to a dentist. But you get the point. Every part of the world, including Central Park where a new kind of centipede was recently found, has new kinds of life awaiting discovery.

But—if none of this impresses you, would you like an entire new living planet for your delectation? The closest we may ever come is the world of the SLIMES (that’s an acronym for Subterranean Lithoautotrophic Microbial Ecosystems), a vast array of bacteria and microscopic fungi teeming below Earth’s surface to depths of up to 2 miles or more, completely independent of life on the surface, living on energy from inorganic materials, possibly forming a greater mass than all of life on the surface. The SLIMES would likely go on existing if we were to burn everything on the surface to a crisp. In approaching biodiversity, we are all explorers, scientists and all others who care about the natural world, now put in perspective, like Cortez and his men on a peak in Darien, before the new ocean, staring, in Keat’s expression, in wild surmise at the unknown world stretching before us.

E. O. Wilson’s Explorers Club Speech 18th March, 2006

Coral Reef
 The highest percentage per unit of area of endangered species are in the tropical rainforests and coral reefs. These species are now disappearing at the rate somewhere a thousand times faster than they are born due to human activity. At this rate, in one human lifetime, half these species of the world which have developed over thousands or millions of years, could be eliminated. Conservation needs to be focussed on the hot spots of biodiversity and fresh water systems of the world. Fresh water systems deserve special attention because they are under heaviest assault from pollution and drainage.

Most of the species extinctions from 1000 AD to 2000 AD are due to human activities, in particular destruction of plant and animal habitats. Raised rates of extinction are being driven by human consumption of organic resources, especially related to tropical forest destruction. While most of the species that are becoming extinct are not food species, their biomass is converted into human food when their habitat is transformed into pasture, cropland, and orchards. It is estimated that more than a third of the Earth’s biomass is tied up in only the few species that represent humans, livestock and crops. Because an ecosystem decreases in stability as its species are made extinct, these studies warn that the global ecosystem is destined for collapse if it is further reduced in complexity. Factors contributing to loss of biodiversity are: overpopulation, deforestation, pollution (air pollution, water pollution, soil contamination) and global warming or climate change, driven by human activity. These factors, while all stemming from overpopulation, produce a cumulative impact upon biodiversity.

“The science of living beings in general, and especially of the human individual, has not made such a great progress. It still remains in the descriptive state. Man is an indivisible whole of extreme complexity. No simple representation of him can be obtained. There is no method of comprehending simultaneously in his entirety, his parts and his relations with the outer world.”
“We are beginning to realise the weakness of our civilisation. Many want to shake off the dogmas imposed upon them by modern society – those who are bold enough to understand the necessity, not only mental, political and social changes, but the overthrow of industrial civilisation and of the advent of another conception of human progress’’

– Man, the Unknown – Dr. Alexis Carrel.
References: ‘Hot, Flat, and Crowded’ by Thomas L. Friedman, E. O. Wilson’s work, ‘Man the Unknown’ by Dr. Alexis Carrel, Wikipedia.


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Indian Rainforests

An article by Mohan Pai



The Indian Rainforests

Rainforests – the Lungs of the Planet Earth
Tropical rainforests are vital to the global ecosystem and human existence. They are a world like no other and are unparalleled in terms of their biological diversity. Tropical rainforests are a natural reservoir of genetic diversity which offers a rich source of medicinal plants, high-yield foods, and a myriad of other useful forest products. They are an important habitat for migratory animals and sustain as much as 50 percent of the species on Earth, as well as a number of diverse and unique indigenous cultures. Tropical rainforests play an elemental role in regulating global weather in addition to maintaining regular rainfall, while buffering against floods, droughts, and erosion. They store vast quantities of carbon, while producing a significant amount of the world’s oxygen. Rainforests once covered 14% of the earths surface and even though they now only cover 6% of the earth, they are home to almost half of the worlds population of mammals, amphibians, reptiles, insects, bird life and plant life.
Tropical rainforests are located in a band around the equator (Zero degrees latitude) in the area between the Tropic of Cancer (23.5° North latitude) and the Tropic of Capricorn (23.5° South latitude).This 3,000 mile (4800 kilometres) wide band is known as the ‘tropics’.

The equator is a line that circles the centre of our global world and is situated halfway between the north and south poles. Temperatures at the equator are high. These high temperatures cause accelerated evaporation of water, which results in frequent rain in rainforests in the tropics.

World Rainforests
Tropical rainforests are found between latitudes 10° N and 10° S. This includes the Amazon Basin of South America, the Zaire Basin of Africa and the islands and peninsulas of South-east Asia.In Southeast Asia, the tropical rainforests are found in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Burma and Papua New Guinea. The rainforests found in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are in small patches and strips, while on the other hand, Indonesia contains one-tenth of the world’s rainforest and 40% of all Asian rainforests! However sadly, as Indonesia is progressing further into modernisation, it is losing its rainforests to commercial logging and human settlements. Malaysia too has lost about two third of its lowland forest to plantations. On a brighter side, Papua New Guinea still has areas of rainforest yet to be disturbed, due to its mountainous terrain. Papua New Guinea is home to many amazing animals, one being the largest butterfly in the world; the Queen Alexandra’s birdwing. Its wing span can reach up to 10 inches wide!
Although they cover less than 2 percent of Earth’s surface, they house an estimated 50 percent of all life on the planet. The immense numbers of creatures that inhabit the tropical rainforests are so great—an estimated 50 million species— they are almost incomprehensible. The sheer range of numbers alone suggests the limited extent of our knowledge of these forests. For example, whereas temperate forests are often dominated by a half dozen tree species or fewer that make up 90 percent of the trees in the forest, a tropical rainforest may have more than 480 tree species in a single hectare (2.5 acres). A single bush in the Amazon may have more species of ants than the entire British Isles. This diversity of rainforests is not a haphazard event, but is the result of a series of unique circumstances.
A tropical rainforest is typically divided into four main layers, each with different plants and animals adapted for life in that particular area: the emergent, canopy, understory, and forest floor layers.

Emergent layer
The emergent layer contains a small number of very large trees called emergents, which grow above the general canopy, reaching heights of 45-55 m, although on occasion a few species will grow to 70-80 m tall. They need to be able to withstand the hot temperatures and strong winds in some areas. Eagles, butterflies, bats, and certain monkeys inhabit this layer.

Diagram: Coutesy Animal Corner

Canopy layer
The canopy layer contains the majority of the largest trees, typically 30-45 m tall. The densest areas of biodiversity are found in the forest canopy, a more or less continuous cover of foliage formed by adjacent treetops. The canopy, by some estimates, is home to 50 percent of all plant species, suggesting that perhaps half of all life on Earth could be found there. Epiphytic plants attach to trunks and branches, and obtain water and minerals from rain and debris that collects on the supporting plants. The fauna is similar to that found in the emergent layer, but more diverse. A quarter of all insect species are believed to exist in the rainforest canopy. Scientists have long suspected the richness of the canopy as a habitat, but have only recently developed practical methods of exploring it. As long ago as 1917, naturalist William Beebe declared that “another continent of life remains to be discovered, not upon the Earth, but one to two hundred feet above it, extending over thousands of square miles.” True exploration of this habitat only began in the 1980s, when scientists developed methods to reach the canopy, such as firing ropes into the trees using crossbows. Exploration of the canopy is still in its infancy, but other methods include the use of balloons and airships to float above the highest branches and the building of cranes and walkways planted on the forest floor. The science of accessing tropical forest canopy using airships, or similar aerial platforms, is called dendronautics.

Understory layer
The understory layer lies between the canopy and the forest floor. The understory (or understorey) is home to a number of birds, snakes, and lizards, as well as predators such as jaguars, boa constrictors, and leopards. The leaves are much larger at this level. Insect life is also abundant. Many seedlings that will grow to the canopy level are present in the understory. Only about 5 percent of the sunlight shining on the rainforest reaches the understory. This layer can also be called a shrub layer, although the shrub layer may also be considered a separate layer.

Forest floor
The forest floor, the bottom-most layer, receives only 2 percent of sunlight. Only plants adapted to low light can grow in this region. Away from riverbanks, swamps, and clearings
where dense undergrowth is found, the forest floor is relatively clear of vegetation because of the low sunlight penetration. It also contains decaying plant and animal matter, which disappears quickly due to the warm, humid conditions promoting rapid decay. Many forms of fungi grow here which help decay the animal and plant waste. It takes up to 20 minutes for rain to actually touch the ground from the trees. Forest floor – Mahadayi Valley, Karnataka.
Because of the ample solar energy, tropical rainforests are usually warm year round with temperatures from about 72-93F (22-34C), although forests at higher elevations, especially cloud forests, may be significantly cooler. The temperature may fluctuate during the year, but in some equatorial forests the average may vary as little as 0.5F (0.3C) throughout the year. Temperatures are generally moderated by cloud cover and high humidity.

An important characteristic of rainforests is apparent in their name. Rainforests lie in the intertropical convergence zone where intense solar energy produces a convection zone of rising air that loses its moisture through frequent rainstorms. Rainforests are subject to heavy rainfall, at least 80 inches (2,000 mm), and in some areas over 430 inches (10,920 mm) of rain each year. In equatorial regions, rainfall may be year round without apparent “wet” or “dry” seasons, although many forests do have seasonal rains. Even in seasonal forests, the period between rains is usually not long enough for the leaf litter to dry out completely. During the parts of the year when less rain falls, the constant cloud cover is enough to keep the air moist and prevent plants from drying out. Some neotropical rainforests rarely go a month during the year without at least 6″ of rain. The stable climate, with evenly spread rainfall and warmth, allows most rainforest trees to be evergreen—keeping their leaves all year and never dropping all their leaves in any one season. Forests further from the equator, like those of India, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Central America, where rainy seasons are more pronounced, can only be considered “semi-evergreen” since some species of trees may shed all of their leaves at the beginning of the dry season. Annual rainfall is spread evenly enough to allow heavy growth of broad-leafed evergreen trees, or at least semi-evergreen trees. The moisture of the rainforest from rainfall, constant cloud cover, and transpiration (water loss through leaves), creates intense local humidity. Each canopy tree transpires some 200 gallons (760 liters) of water annually, translating to roughly 20,000 gallons (76,000 L) of water transpired into the atmosphere for every acre of canopy trees. Large rainforests (and their humidity) contribute to the formation of rain clouds, and generate as much as 75 percent of their own rain.
The Amazon rainforest is responsible for creating as much as 50 percent of its own precipitation. Deforestation and climate change may be affecting the water cycle in tropical rainforests. Since the mid-1990s, rainforests around the world have experienced periods of severe drought, including southeast Asia in 1997 and 2005 and the Amazon in 2005. Dry conditions, combined with degradation from logging and agricultural conversion, make forests more vulnerable to wildfire.

Rainforests Waters
Tropical rainforests have some of the largest rivers in the world, like the Amazon, Madeira, Mekong, Brahmaputra, Negro, Orinoco, and Zaire (Congo), because of the tremendous amount of precipitation their watersheds receive. These mega-rivers are fed by countless smaller tributaries, streams, and creeks. For example, the Amazon alone has some 1,100 tributaries, 17 of which are over 1,000 miles long. Although large tropical rivers are fairly uniform in appearance and water composition, their tributaries vary greatly. Many tropical rivers and streams have extreme high and low water levels that occur at different parts of the year. In addition to rivers, rainforests have conventional, free-standing lakes and so-called oxbow lakes, formed when a river changes course. These lakes are home to species adapted to the quiet, stagnant conditions. Tropical waters, whether they be giant rivers, streams, or oxbow lakes, are almost as rich in animal species as the rainforests that surround them. But they, too, are increasingly threatened by human activities, including pollution, siltation resulting from deforestation, hydroelectric projects, and over-harvesting of resident species.

Forest – the mother of rivers

There is an umbilical connection between healthy forests and water regimes. Forests are nurseries and cisterns for our life giving rivers. Forest areas give birth to all the major and minor rivers. Most of the rivers spring from some unknown forests. Because of the slope the rain water cannot stay to soak into the earth, it flows downhill rapidly taking some of the earth with it This run-off on the hillsides will only be halted, and water will percolate into the earth where there is a good tree cover. In fact a forest “traps” rainwater and channels it into underground streams.
World’s Largest Pharmacy

Medicinal plants and herbs which are in great demand by Pharmaceutical MNCs e.g. Mappia foetida used for the treatment of ovarian colon cancers. The tree is the richest source of Camptothetician (CPT) used in the treatment of these cancers.

Tropical rainforests are called “the world’s largest pharmacy” because of the large amount of natural medicines discovered in rainforests that are derived from rainforest plants. For example, rain forests contain the basic ingredients of hormonal contraception methods, cocaine, stimulants, and tranquilizing drugs. Curare (a paralyzing drug) and quinine (a malaria cure) are also found there.

Rainforests around the world still continue to fall. Does it really make a difference? Why should anyone care if some plants, animals, mushrooms, and microorganisms perish? Rainforests are often hot and humid, difficult to reach, insect-ridden, and have elusive wildlife.
Actually the concern should not be about losing a few plants and animals; mankind stands to lose much more. By destroying the tropical forests, we risk our own quality of life, gamble with the stability of climate and local weather, threaten the existence of other species, and undermine the valuable services provided by biological diversity. While in most areas environmental degradation has yet to reach a crisis level where entire systems are collapsing, it is important to examine some of the effects of existing environmental impoverishment and to forecast some of the potential repercussions of forest loss. Continuing loss of natural systems could make human activities increasingly vulnerable to ecological surprises in the future. The most immediate impact of deforestation occurs at the local level with the loss of ecological services provided by tropical rainforests and related ecosystems. Such habitats afford humans valuable services such as erosion prevention, flood control, water treatment, fisheries protection, and pollination—functions that are particularly important to the world’s poorest people, who rely on natural resources for their everyday survival. Forest loss also reduces the availability of renewable resources like timber, medicinal plants, nuts and fruit, and game. Over the longer term, deforestation of tropical rainforests can have a broader impact, affecting global climate and biodiversity. These changes are more difficult to observe and forecast from local effects, since they take place over a longer time scale and can be difficult to measure.
Deforestation and the Global Carbon Cycle
Carbon dioxide ( CO2) is the major gas involved in the greenhouse effect, which causes global warming. All the things that produce CO2 (like car burning gas) and the things that consume Co2 (growing plants) are involved in the “global carbon cycle”. Tropical forests hold an immense amount of carbon, which joins with oxygen to form CO2. The plants and soil of tropical forests hold 460-575 billion metric tons of carbon worldwide. Each acre of tropical forest stores about 180 metric tons of carbon.
Deforestation increases the amount of CO2 and other trace gases in the atmosphere. When a forest is cut and replaced by cropland and pastures, the carbon that was stored in the tree trunks (wood is about 50% carbon) joins with oxygen and is released into the atmosphere as Co2.The loss of forests has a great effect on the global carbon cycle. From 1850 to 1990, deforestation worldwide (including that in the United States) released 122 billion metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere, with the current rate being 1.6 billion metric tons per year. In comparison all the fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) burned during a year release about 6 billion tons per year.Releasing CO2 into the atmosphere increases the greenhouse effect, and may raise global temperature. The role of fossil fuels burned by cars and industry is well known, but tropical deforestation releases about 25% of the amount released by fossil fuel burning. Tropical deforestation, therefore, contributes a significant part of the increasing CO2 in the atmosphere.
Today tropical rainforests are disappearing from the face of the globe. Despite growing international concern, rainforests continue to be destroyed at a pace exceeding 80,000 acres (32,000 hectares) per day. World rainforest cover now stands at around 2.5 million square miles (6 million square kilometers), an area about the size of the contiguous 48 United States or Australia and representing around 5 percent of the world’s land surface. Much of this remaining area has been impacted by human activities and no longer retains its full original biodiversity.
The Rainforests of India
The rainforests in India are the centres of species richness and endemism and due to this has the status of being one of the 12 mega-biodiversity countries in the world. Even the two hotspots in India, the Western Ghats and the Eastern Himalayas, owe their status due to the presence of rainforests therein. These forests form very important catchments areas for major river systems, maintain soil and water fertility not only in the immediate vicinity but also hundreds of kilometers away, harbours rich indigenous culture with long traditions of sustainable use of traditional knowledge systems especially on medicines and wild relatives of cultivate crops. It is to these rainforests that more than 80% of the endemic flora and fauna of India are confined. Being the most complex ecosystem, the rain forests are living laboratories in which complex ecological, biological and evolutionary processes that have shaped the Earth.

Bamboo brakes, Muthodi, Karnataka

Tropical forest cover in India has been reduced to two major areas: the coastal hills of the Western Ghats (about 55,000 square miles or 135,000 sq. km) and 14,000 square miles (34,500 sq. km) in Northeastern India. Very little of India’s forest cover is considered pristine. 22.8% —or about 67,701,000 hectares—of India is forested. Change in Forest Cover: Between 1990 and 2000, India gained an average of 361,500 hectares of forest per year. The amounts to an average annual reforestation rate of 0.57%. Between 2000 and 2005, the rate of forest change decreased by 92.3% to 0.04% per annum. In total, between 1990 and 2005, India gained 5.9% of its forest cover, or around 3,762,000 hectares. Measuring the total rate of habitat conversion (defined as change in forest area plus change in woodland area minus net plantation expansion) for the 1990-2005 interval, India gained 1.0% of its forest and woodland habitat.Biodiversity and Protected Areas: India has some 2356 known species of amphibians, birds, mammals and reptiles according to figures from the World Conservation Monitoring Centre. Of these, 18.4% are endemic, meaning they exist in no other country, and 10.8% are threatened. India is home to at least 18664 species of vascular plants, of which 26.8% are endemic. 4.9% of India is protected under IUCN categories I-V.

Rainforests of the Western Ghats
The Western Ghats hill range in India contains spectacular landscapes and an incredible array of wild species, many found nowhere else in the world. One among the world’s 34 most biologically diverse “hotspots”, the region has representation of a wide variety of natural ecosystems from grasslands and dry forests to rainforests, rivers, and streams, threatened by a multitude of human activities such as industrialisation, agriculture, grazing, hunting, deforestation, fragmentation, and degradation. Today, rainforests in the Western Ghats occur largely as fragments within a landscape matrix dominated by commercial plantations of tea, coffee, and other cash crops. With an annual deforestation rate of 1.2%, the southern Western Ghats is losing about 500 square kilometres of forest every year. NCF’s programme focuses on human impacts on wild species and habitats, biological surveys, human-wildlife conflict research and mitigation, and restoration to turn the tide of destruction towards conservation.

Forests of the western slopes of the Western Ghats, Konkan

The northern portion of the range is generally drier than the southern portion, and at lower elevations makes up the North Western Ghats moist deciduous forests ecoregion, with mostly deciduous forests made up predominantly of teak. Above 1,000 meters elevation are the cooler and wetter North Western Ghats montane rain forests, whose evergreen forests are characterized by trees of family Lauraceae.The evergreen Wayanad forests of Kerala mark the transition zone between the northern and southern ecoregions of the Western Ghats. The southern ecoregions are generally wetter and more species-rich. At lower elevations are the South Western Ghats moist deciduous forests, with Cullenia the characteristic tree genus, accompanied by teak, dipterocarps, and other trees. The moist forests transition to the drier South Deccan Plateau dry deciduous forests, which lie in its rain shadow to the east.

Clear felling, Mahadayi Valley, Karnataka

Above 1,000 meters are the South Western Ghats montane rain forests, also cooler and wetter than the surrounding lowland forests, and dominated by evergreen trees, although some montane grasslands and stunted forests can be found at the highest elevations. The South Western Ghats montane rain forests are the most species-rich ecoregion in peninsular India; eighty percent of the flowering plant species of the entire Western Ghats range are found in this ecoregion.

Tropical Montane – Bedthi River Valley, Karnataka

The animal life of the Indian peninsular region is characterised by the absence of many of the Indo-Malay species which are so abundant in the hill forests of the Himalayas. It is the home of the true Indian fauna of which the spotted deer, the nilgai, the blackbuck, the four-horned antelope, and the sloth bear are typical representatives. They are found no where else. Other species like the gaur, the sambar and the muntjac (barking deer) occur both in India and Malay countries. The Western Ghats, in sharp contrast to the adjoining dry zone of the Deccan present a region of great humidity and heavy rainfall. The forests covering the western slopes are at times very dense and composed of lofty trees, festooned with perennial creepers. Bamboos form a luxuriant undergrowth. In parts of the range the forests are more open and the banks of clear streams running through them are covered with spice and betel groves.
The Nilgiris, an offshoot of the Western Ghats, rise precipitously to form extensive grassy downs and tablelands seamed with densely forested gorges or Sholas. They are composed of evergreen trees with dense undergrowth.

1. Malabar Giant Squirrel 2. Lion tailed Macaque

Among the species limited to these forests are the Nilgiri langur, the Lion-tailed macaque, the Nilgiri brown mongoose and the striped necked mongoose, the Malabar civet, and the spiny mouse. In the higher levels of the Nilgiris and the Anaimalais are found such characteristically Himalayan animals as the tahr, the pine marten and the European otter.

Endemic species of the Western Ghats

One hundred and twenty species of mammals are known from the Western Ghats of which fourteen species are endemic (found only in that area).
The mammalian fauna of the Western Ghats is dominated by insectivores (11 species), bats (41 species) and rodents (27 species including porcupine). Few studies have, however, paid attention to the community structure and organisation of these small mammals in the Western Ghats, although there have been attempts to review our understanding of the status and ecology of smaller cats and lesser carnivores.
Rainforests of the Northeast India
The Northeast India lying between 22-30 degree N latitude and 89-97 degree E longitude, and sprawling over 2,62,379, Northeast India represents the transition zone between the Indian, Indo-Malayan and Indo-Chinese biogeographic regions and a meeting place of the Himalayan Mountains and Peninsular India. It was the part of the northward migrating ‘Deccan Peninsula’ that first touched the Asian landmass after the break up of Gondwanaland in the early Tertiary Period. Northeast India is thus the geographical ‘gateway’ for much of India’s flora and fauna, and as a consequence, the region is one of the richest in biological values. It is in this lowland-highland transition zone that the highest diversity of biomes or ecological communities can be found, and species diversities within these communities are also extremely high.
Northeast India is blessed with a wide range of physiography and ecoclimatic conditions. The State of Assam has extensive flood plains, while Khangchendzonga in Sikkim stands 8586 m. tall. Cherrapunjee in the State of Meghalaya holds the record for the highest rainfall in a single month (9,300 mm) as well as the most in a year (26,461 mm) in India, while the nearby Mawsynram has the world’s highest average rainfall (11,873 mm). The forests in the region are extremely diverse in structure and composition and combine tropical and temperate forest types, alpine meadows and cold deserts. There are regions, for example, in the State of Sikkim, where the faunal assemblages also change rapidly from tropical to subtropical, temperate, alpine and finally to cold desert forms.
After the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the Western Ghats, Northeast India forms the main region of tropical forests in India, especially the species-rich tropical rain forests. The tropical semi-evergreen and moist deciduous forests in the lowlands of this region extend south and west into the subcontinent, and east into Southern China and Southeast Asia. The subtropical forests of the region follow the foothills of the Himalaya to the west; also extend into Southeast China in the east. Himalayan temperate and subalpine zone forests extend from northern Pakistan and adjacent Afghanistan through Northeast India to Southwest China. Each of the eight States of the region, namely Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura, boast of several endemics in flora as well as fauna. This region represents an important part of the Indo-Myanmar biodiversity hotspot.
1. Dooars forests, North Bengal 2. Golden Langur
The primary vegetation in extensive areas of the Northeast India has been disturbed and modified and in some places destroyed by seismic activities, frequent landslides and resultant soil erosion. While these natural causes have contributed only marginally to the change in vegetation type, it is the activity of Man that has led to the irreversible transformation in the landscapes and has resulted in colossal loss of biodiversity in the entire region. Human influences have pushed many species to the brink of extinction and have caused havoc to natural fragile ecosystems. Such devastations to natural ecosystems are witnessed almost everywhere in the region and is a cause of great concern.

1. Slow Loris 2. Reticulated Python

Northeast India has 64% of the total geographical area under forest cover and it is often quoted that it continues to be a forest surplus region. However, the forest cover is rapidly disappearing from the entire region. There has been a decrease of about 1800 in the forest cover between 1991 and 1999. More worrisome still is the fact that the quality of the forest is also deteriorating, with the dense forests (canopy closure of 40% or more) becoming degraded into open forest or scrub. Though there is a succession of several edaphic formations, a vast area of land has already been transformed into barren and unproductive wastelands. This being the case, the statistics of ‘more than 64 % of the total geographic area in this region under forest cover’ could be misleading. For example, though the forest cover in Manipur extends to 78% of the total geographic area, only 22% of forest area is under dense forest cover and the rest has been converted to open forests.
Except in the Brahmaputra and Barak valleys of Assam where substantial areas are under agriculture, little of the land is available for settled cultivation. Hence, shifting agriculture or slash-and-burn agriculture is the major land use in Northeast India and extends over 1.73 million ha. Different agencies have come up with different figures concerning the total area under shifting cultivation (jhum) in the region. What is not disputable is that with an ever shortening jhum cycle, the other human influences have caused environmental degradation with disastrous consequences.The forests of Assam once acted as a sponge, absorbing the tremendous impact of the monsoons. The natural drainage of the vast northeastern Himalaya is channelled through Assam and with the loss of thick forest cover, Brahmaputra, one of the largest and fastest flowing rivers of the subcontinent is creating havoc in the State. Floods that have devastating effects are now common to Northeast India and protecting the forests is a difficult problem.
The Rainforests of the Andamans & Nicobar Islands

The Andamans and Nicobar Islands have tropical evergreen rain forests and tropical semi-evergreen rainforests as well as tropical monsoon moist monsoon forests.
There are 572 islands in the territory, of which only approximately 38 are permanently inhabited. Most of the islands (about 550) are in the Andamans group, 26 of which are inhabited. The smaller Nicobars comprise some 22 main islands (10 inhabited). The Andamans and Nicobars are separated by a channel (the Ten Degree Channel) some 150 km wide.The total area of the Andaman Islands is some 6,408 km²; that of the Nicobar Islands approximately 1,841 km².

Aerial view -Andamans & Nicobar Islands

Andaman & Nicobar Islands are blessed with a unique tropical rainforest canopy, made of a mixed flora with elements from Indian, Myanmarese, Malaysian and endemic floral strains. So far, about 2,200 varieties of plants have been recorded, out of which 200 are endemic and 1,300 do not occur in mainland India.The South Andaman forests have a profuse growth of epiphytic vegetation, mostly ferns and orchids. The Middle Andamans harbours mostly moist deciduous forests. North Andamans is characterised by the wet evergreen type, with plenty of woody climbers. The north Nicobar Islands (including Car Nicobar and Battimalv) are marked by the complete absence of evergreen forests, while such forests form the dominant vegetation in the central and southern islands of the Nicobar group. Grasslands occur only in the Nicobars, and while deciduous forests are common in the Andamans, they are almost absent in the Nicobars. The present forest coverage is claimed to be 86.2% of the total land area.

References: Wikipedia, Mongabay,com, Animal, The Western Ghats by Mohan Pai, Nature Conservation Foundation, Biodiversity of Northeast India an Overview -V.Ramakantha, A.K.Gupta, Ajith Kumar
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A Primer of Ecology

An article by Mohan Pai

(This is the last chapter from my book “The Western Ghats” published in 2005)

“There is nothing in nature to prove that it cares more for our human species than daffodils. We may one day vanish as quickly and as radically as thousands of other breeds before us. Mother nature has no mama’s darlings…when the balance of nature is threatened, it always finds a way to restore that balance, at whatever cost. If endangered by us, nature will strike back and show no more concern for Michaelangelo, Shakespeare or Mozart than for daffodils. We are dealing here with an overwhelming force, that of life itself and we know next to nothing about it. The only thing we know is — nature has no favourite among species.

Romain Grey  in ” Vanishing Species”



How to destroy a fragile ecosystem


10 Easy Steps

Ecosystems such as the Western Ghats which have global significance, are classified as HOT SPOTS. Globally, about 18 hot spots have been identified. These spots are extremely rich in species, have high endemism, and are under constant threat. Hotspot areas are particularly rich in floral wealth and endemism, not only in flowering plants but also in reptiles, amphibians, swallow-tailed butterflies, and some mammals. These
are extremely fragile biosystems and need to be nurtured and protected for the sake of the environmental well-being of the people. However, we are witnessing a mindless destruction of these systems.

The 10 EASY steps adopted for the destruction process are as follows:

1. Destroy as much as natural forest as possible by clear felling. Plant monoculture (teak, eucalyptus, acacia, etc.) in the name of afforestation.
2. Build dams for irrigation and power. In the process, destroy thousands and thousands hectares of natural forest. Allow the area to be submerged and displace the tribals and local populat ion. Promise resettlement – over the years keep promising – make trauma of displacement more painful. In the process, also kill a vast number of endemic species in the area, so that they are lost forever. Also decimate wild life of the area by submersion or fragmentation of their habitat. Blasting of rocks, the
rumble of machinery, the incursions by human help greatly in reducing the fauna in the Ghats.
3. Allow encroachment in the forest area and then legalise it through legislation.
4. Start large-scale mining operations within the forests. Apart from destroying the habitat complex of highly threatened flora and fauna, it will result in high degree of pollution of the rivers and land surrounding water course. The forests will be replaced with heaps of mined waste. It will also effectively kill and re duce the aquatic fauna. There will be a decline in agricultural productivity due to deposition of mine tailing.
5. Establish large-scale paper mills and plywood units by clearing large tracts of prime forest land and allow them a free hand with the forest timber.
6. Install an Atomic Power Plant right in the midst of the forest again by destroying an immense amount of prime forests. Ignore the hazards it entails for the area.7. Build Railways through the thick forest and cause as much damage as possible through clearing the prime forests and
8. Clear large tracts of natural forests for cash crops like coffee, cardamom, tea, spices, etc.
9. Protect poachers and smugglers – offer them political patronage so that they can kill with impunity thousands of tuskers for Ivory and other endangered animals for their skins; smuggle out millions of tonnes of valuable timber.
10. Pass on this knowledge to your children so that whatever green patches may be left could be effectively eliminated in the end.

What is ECOLOGY ?

All life on the earth is interrelated and interconnected in someway or the other. Living organisms are dependent upon their physical environment – the land, water, air.The study of the interrelationship between plants, animals, and the environment is called ECOLOGY.One of the fundamental aspects in ecology that helps us understand the interrelationship between plants and animals, animals and animals and plants, animals and human beings, is their requirement of food.Food chains & food-web.Green plants are the primary producers of food. They make simple carbohydrates during the process of photosynthesis, with the help of carbon dioxide and water by utilisation of the energy received from the Sun. When herbivore animals eat plants, they get energy through this food. When they are eaten by carnivore, the latter get the energy required for their life activities. For example: grass —> grass hopper —-> frog. This is a simple food chain. Now, if a frog is eaten by a snake, and the snake by an eagle, it becomes a complex food chain. Several such food chains exists in nature. An interconnected network of different food chain that occurs among inhabitants of a particular natural habitat is called food-web. The food-web is a delicate network of interrelationship between the species involved, representing a balanced and self-contained living system. Destruction of any one link in this food-web will have an adverse impact on the other or the entire system itself. For example if the carnivores like tigers and leopards are exterminated, the population of the deer will increase unchecked and this in turn would destroy the vegetation more rapidly, giving no time for plants to regenerate.

Interrelationships in nature take many forms – plants and vegetation provide home for animals; insects and birds pollinate flowers; animals help the dispersal of seeds of plants; parasites infest plants or animals. Some are beneficial associations between organisms (symbiosis) and others are not. There are also nature’s cleanup crew – the crow, the eagle, the hyena, and others who act as scavengers and bacteria aiding in decomposing the dead which play an important role in returning organic and inorganic components of dead animals and plants back to nature, to be used and reused by subsequent living organisms.

Nature provides a very complex, yet balanced, interrelationship between plants and animals. Together with the biogeochemical cycles such as water cycle, carbon cycle, nitrogen cycle, mineral cycle, etc., recycling essential elements between living organisms and the environment; all life on the earth is interconnected. It is necessary to understand these ecological relationships to appreciate the importance of conservation of animals and plants and the non-living resources that nature has provided on our planet earth.

Biosphere & Biomes

Life on the earth may have begun to evolve some 3,500 million years ago. Today there are over half-a-million variety of plants and a million different kind of animals.

All life is confined to a thin layer of the earth called BIOSPHERE. The Biosphere of the earth can be divided into a number of BIOMES or natural habitats with specific climatic and geographical characteristics that help sustain a variety of plants and animals adapted to survive in a particular region.A biome is made up of biological communities that interact with each other in a particular life zone. A tropical rainforest, for example, is a biome which is the home for a wide variety of plants and animals suitably adapted to live in the habitat that constitutes the forest. The higher canopy of tree branches sustain arboreal animals, such as monkeys, flying squirrels and birds; the dense forest floor sustains tigers, deer, snakes, insects, millipedes, etc.The rainforest is characterised by warm and moist climate with plenty of rainfall. Similarly oceans, lakes, grasslands, wetlands,coniferous forests, deciduous forests, deserts and coastal regions constitute different biomes or self contained environments with typical plants and animals suitable to survive in these habitats.Thus nature provides an extremely complex and intricate network of living things delicately balanced and adapted to inhabit the diverse climatic and geographical regions on our planet. This is our natural heritage; a heritage in which we ourselves are one of the many species of animals, depending upon the entire system for our sustenance and survival.

What is biodiversity ?

The term Biodiversity encompasses the variety of all life on the earth. It is identified as the variability among living organisms and the ecological complexes which they are part, including diversity within and between species and ecosystems. Biodiversity manifests at three levels:
a) Species diversity which refers to the numbers and kinds of living organisms.
b) Genetic diversity which refers to genetic variation within a population of species.
c) Ecosystem diversity which is the variety of habitats, biological communities and ecological processes that occur in the biosphere.Biological diversity affects us all. It has direct consumptive value in food, agriculture, medicine, industry. It also has aesthetic and recreational value. Biodiversity maintains ecological balance and continues evolutionary process. The indirect ecosystem services provided through biodiversity are photosynthesis, pollination, chemical cycling, nutrient cycling, soil maintenance, climate regulation, air, water system management, waste treatment and pest control.Biodiversity is not evenly distributed among the world’s more than 170 countries. A very small number of countries lying wholly or partly within the tropics, contain a high percentage of the world’s species. These countries are known as Megabiodiversity countries. Twelve countries have been identified as megabiodiversity countries: India, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, Madagascar, Zaire, Australia, China, Indonesia and Malaysia. Together these countries contain as much as 60 to 70 per cent of the world’s species. India is one of the 12 megabiodiversity centres in the world.India is divided into 10 biogeographic regions:Trans-Himalayan, Himalayan, Indian desert, Semi-arid zone, Western Ghats, Deccan Peninsula, Gangetic Plains, North-East India, Islands and Coasts.


An ecosystem is a place where nature has created a unique mixture of air, water, soil and a variety of living organisms to interact and support each other. It is a living community of plants and animals of any area together with the non-living components of the environment such as soil air and water. The living and non-living interact with each other in such a manner that it results in the flow of energy between them. In a particular ecosystem the biotic community consists of the birds, reptiles, mammals, insects and other invertebrates, bacteria, plants and other living organisms.An ecosystem includes not only the species inhabiting an area but also features of the physical environment. Energy cannot be produced without the consumption of matter; the pyramid of life therefore has a wide base of vegetation, the smaller herbivores that feed on plants, and a much smaller number of carnivores. Eco-system ecologists are interested in the exchange of energy, gases, water and minerals amongst the biotic (living) and the abiotic (non-living) components of a particular system; therefore they tend to study confined areas that are easier to control or monitor. Small and relatively self-contained ecosystems are called microsystems because they represent miniature systems in which most of the ecological processes characteristic of larger ecosystems operate but on a smaller scale. A small pond is an example of a little ecosystem. On the other hand, the largest and the only really complete ecosystem is the biosphere. An ecosystem can exist in any place where there are varied forms of life. Even the park near your home or a village pond can be an ecosystem as there are different forms of life here and they coexist.
One of the most productive ecosystems is at the point where sea water meets freshwater.Conservationists have now realised that in order to save the natural world, ecosystems as a whole have to be saved. Unless the entire ecosystem is preserved, the individual species will not be able to survive for long.Human activities clearly demonstrate the interdependence of all ecosystems – acid rain that falls on forests is carried to pristine lakes far from the source of pollution.

Deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels change the composition of the atmosphere and perhaps contributes to the alteration of the earth’s climate. The most important lesson to be learned about life on earth is that most things on the earth are interdependent and interconnected – actions taken have a much larger impact than one can think of.

Genetic Biodiversity

All forms of life on earth, whether microbes, plants, or human beings, contain genes. Genetic diversity is the sum of genetic information contained in the genes of individual plants, animals and micro-organisms. Each species is the storehouse of an immense amount of genetic information in the form of traits, characteristics, etc. The number of genes ranges from about 1000 in bacteria to more than 400,000 in many flowering plants, each species consists of many organisms and virtually no two members of the same species are genetically identical.An important conservation consequence of this is that even if an endangered species is saved from extinction it has probably lost some of its internal diversity. Consequently when populations expand again, they become more genetically uniform than their ancestors. There are mathematical formulas to express a genetically effective population size that explain the genetic effects on populations that have gone through a bottleneck before expanding again such as the African Cheetah or the North American Bison.Subsequent inbreeding in small populations may result in A) reduced fertility and B) increased susceptibility to disease. Genetic differentiation within species occurs as a result of sexual reproduction, in which genetic differences between individuals are combined in their offspring to produce new combinations of genes or from mutations causing changes in the DNA.Genetic diversity is usually mentioned with reference to agriculture and maintaining food security. This is because genetic erosion of several crops has already occurred leading to the world’s dependence for food on just a few species. Currently, a mere 100 odd species account for 90% of the supply of food crops and three crops – rice, maize and wheat – account for 69% of the calories and 56% of the proteins that people derive from plants.


Species is a group of class of animals and plants having certain common and permanent characteristics that clearly distinguish it from other groups or species (Concise Oxford Dictionary). They are populations in which gene flow occur under natural conditions. By definition, members of one species do not breed with those of other species. Unfortunately, this definition does not work in species where hybridization, self fertilization, or parthenogenesis (reproduction of offspring without fertilization by sexual union) occurs. New species may be established in several ways. The most common method is a geographical speciation (formation of new biological species), the process by which the populations that are isolated diverge through evolution by being subjected to different environmental conditions. Biodiversity is most commonly used and measured by species diversity. There are two major reasons for this: Species are still the most identifiable collective unit of biological organization and the loss of species seems the most irreversible and final of all forms of diversity. Species diversity can be expressed in terms of richness, that is the number of species in an area – for example you can count the number of plant species in your garden which will give you the species richness in your garden. Thus, if you have one neem tree and one mango tree, the tree species in your garden will be two. Ecologists have come up with various diversity indices, which focus not only on the number of species present but also on the number of individuals of a particular species.Diversity indices are of more value to ecologists, since they give an idea of the composition of the communities existing in an area, and help identify species that dominate the community in terms of their abundance, biomass or cover. Species diversity is not uniform throughout the world, some areas are very species rich while others are species poor. Again while one area may have hundreds of plant species another may have an incredible insect diversity. A striking pattern is the increase in diversity from poles to the equator, thus while the tropical areas team with life, temperate areas which are closer to the poles have fewer kind of plants and animals, while the polar regions are stark and barren. Tropical forests are amazingly diverse, a single hectare may contain 40 to 100 different kinds of trees. In contrast in a coniferous or a deciduous forest only about 10 to 30 species can be found.Latitudinal variations are not the only emerging pattern. Diversity is also closely linked to altitude or elevation. The plains of India have a varied species of plants but as you go up, the decrease in the moisture contents in the atmosphere reduces the number of species. The desert area has the least number of species. There are certain species that are endemic to a region that is, they are found in only a particular area and are very special to that area. They have evolved to adapt to that area only and if their habitat is destroyed (e.g. by deforestation) they can easily become extinct. Some plants and shrubs are endemic to only a particular type of forest, such as some found in the evergreen forest will not be found in any other type of forest area. Take the Western Ghats as an example – animals endemic to this area include the Rusty Spotted cat, Nilgiri marten, the Lion-tailed macaque, and the Nilgiri langur.


The forest is a complex ecosystem consisting mainly of trees that have formed a buffer for the earth to protect life-forms. The trees which make up the main area of the forest create a specialenvironment which, in turn, affects the kinds of animals and plants that can exist in the forest.The FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization) has defined forest as land with crown cover (or equivalent stocking level) of more than 10% and area of more than 0.5 hectare. The trees should be able to reach a minimum height of 5 m at maturity in situ. In the tropical and subtropical region, forests are further subdivided into plantations and natural forests. Natural forests are forests composed of indigenous trees, not deliberately planted. Plantations are forest stands established by planting or/and seeding in the process of afforestation or reforestation. There are about 16 major types of forests in India from the tropical type to the dry type.Forests can develop wherever there is an average temperature greater then about 10 Centigrade in the warmest month and an annual rainfall in excess of about 200 mm annually. In any area having conditions above this range there exists an infinite variety of tree species grouped into a number of stable forest types that are determined by the specific conditions of the environment here. Forests can be broadly classified into many types some of which are the Taiga type (consisting of pines, spruce, etc.). The mixed temperate forests with both coniferous and deciduous trees, the temperate forests, the sub tropical forests, the tropical forests, and the equatorial rainforests.In India it is believed that organized exploitation of forest wealth began with an increase in hunting. Ashoka the Great is said to have set up the first sanctuary to protect the forest and all life in it. The Mughal rulers were avid hunters and spent a great deal of time in the forests.
It was during the British rule that the first practical move towards conservation in modern times took place. They established ‘reserved forest’ blocks with hunting by permit only. Though there were other motives behind their move, it at least served the purpose of classification of and control over the forests.
Soon after independence, rapid development and progress saw large forest tracts fragmented by roads, canals, and townships. There was an increase in the exploitation of forest wealth. It was only in 1970s that the importance of conservation of forests was realised and the preservation of India’s remaining forests and wildlife was given a front seat.

The Wetlands

Wetlands are areas lying along the banks of rivers and lakes and the coastal regions. They are life supporting systems providing fish, forest products, water, flood control, erosion buffering, a plant gene pool, wildlife, recreation and tourism areas. Though they are endowed with a rich biodiversity, yet of late they are being greatly exploited. Many Wetland species have become threatened and endangered because of their dependence on a particular type of wetland eco-system, which has become seriously degraded or destroyed. Such is the case with swampy grasslands and the flood plain wetlands of the Ganges and Brahmaputra river valleys. Large areas have been converted to agricultural land or there has been widespread over-grazing. Removal of sand, gravel and other material from the beds of rivers and lakes has not only caused destruction of wetlands but has led to sedimentation, which has affected other areas. The introduction of exotic plants has had an adverse effect on these areas. The water hyacinth, a native of South America, is now a major pest in many areas forming a vast floating shield over the surface of the water and clogging up rivers and canals. A number of factors have been responsible for the depletion of wetland areas, mainly the mangrove forests, along the coasts of India. Intensive aquacultural development, deforestation, pollution from tankers, domestic waste, agricultural runoff and industrial effluents are some of the factors. Most of the surviving mangroves are now confined to West Bengal and the islands in the Bay of Bengal.In 1981, Chilka Lake, India’s largest brackish water lagoon, was designated a Ramsar Wetland of International importance. But its fragile ecosystem has of late come under threat due to both anthropogenic and natural factors. It provides refuge to thousands of migratory birds and the balance in ecosystem has to be maintained to ensure safe habitat for the birds.

Exotic Species

As opposed to native species, which are indigenous and found naturally in an environment, animals and plant species introduced from other countries and which are not otherwise found locally are termed exotic. These introduced or exotic species can adversely affect the ecosystem.In India large variety of exotic animal and plant species, have been introduced from other parts of the world through the ages. Some exotic plants have turned into weeds, multiplying fast and causing harm to the ecosystem, e.g. Water hyacinth and lantana. Exotics are invariably introduced without their natural enemies that control and balance their spread in their native land, and hence grow and flourish without any hindrance and cause harm to the environment. Therefore, when planting saplings, remember to choose only those that form a part of the natural ecosystem of an area. In a stable ecosystem, all species – animals, plants and microbes – are in healthy coexistence. Any disturbance in one gives rise to imbalance in others and this is what happens when an exotic species is introduced.Introduced species can often negatively affect native species. While they are selected specifically for their adaptability and in the long run often out number native species and compete with them for the resources. This results in the expansion of the introduced species and the decline of native species. Plants from all over the world have been brought to India and grown here. Some have proved beneficial while others have not. Vegetables such as chillies and onion have been brought from South America and Persia (modern day Iran) respectively. Coffee, Cashew, eucalyptus and many more species have come from abroad. Some quick growing plant species were brought from Australia for afforestation programmes such as the acacia and eucalyptus. The demand for wood in different industries led to a growth of forest area under these species. These trees shed the leaves on the ground and do not allow other plants to grow nor do they decompose easily. During the rains there is heavy erosion and poor percolation in these areas. Thus the introduction of these species has caused more harm than good to the forests and the soil in general. Some weeds have not been intentionally introduced but have come accidentally as for instance the Mexican weed came along with American wheat that came as PL 480 aid from the USA in the 1960s when quarantine rules were not so strict. In fact all plants and seeds that come from another country should be quarantined to ensure that no other foreign material has come with it.

Source : Edugreen – Teri, New Delhi




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Biological Rhythms in Nature

An article by Mohan Pai


“God does not play dice with the Universe”- Albert Einstein


Biological Rhythms refers to periodic biological fluctuation in an organism that corresponds to, and is in response to, periodic environmental change. Examples of such change include cyclical variations in the relative position of the Earth to the Sun and to the Moon and in the immediate effects of such variations, e.g., day alternating with night, high tide alternating with low tide..The internal mechanism by which such a rhythmic phenomenon occurs and is maintained even in the absence of the apparent environmental stimulus is termed a biological clock. When an animal that functions according to such a clock is rapidly translocated to a geographic point where the environmental cycle is no longer synchronous with the animal’s cycle, the clock continues for a time to function synchronously with the original environmental cycle.

Humans similarly transported over great distances often experience fatigue and lowered efficiency for several days, a phenomenon known as “jet lag,” or jet syndrome.A rhythm with a 24-hour cycle is called a circadian (from Latin circa, “about”; di, “day”—i.e., “about a day”), solar day, diel, daily, diurnal, or nychthemeral rhythm. A lunar tidal rhythm—the regular ebb and flow of oceans and very large inland bodies of water—subjects seashore plants and animals to a rhythmic change; typically two high and two low tides occur each day (about 24.8 hours). Many species of shorebirds exhibit this rhythm by seeking food only when beaches are exposed at low tide.

Monthly rhythms, averaging approximately 29.5 days, are reflected in reproductive cycles of many marine plants and in those of many animals. Annual rhythms are reflected in the reproduction and growth of most terrestrial plants and animals in the temperate zones.Animal behaviourPeriodic change with the time of day, month and year is a most spectacular feature of the environment of the earth. The three major periods thus prevalent are those of the solar day (24 hours), lunar month (29 days) and the calendar year (365 days). Most living creatures have adapted themselves in many ways to this temporal order of their environment, giving rise to a variety of biological rhythms. Theses rhythms enable the plants and animals to carry out their various bodily functions at the most advantageous time of the day, month or year.The cold-blooded lizards must raise their body temperature that necessarily falls during the night by sunning themselves in the morning. The most appropriate time for hunting for prey for them is therefore late morning, when they can be warm and active. Crabs on the seashore must adapt their feeding times in accordance with tides which depend on the rotation of moon. Insectivorous birds must adjust their breeding seasons to correspond with the yearly period of maximum abundance of insects to satisfy the requirements of their fast-growing chicks, and so on.

Animals fall into two broad categories of day-active and night-active, depending on the time during which they actively seek food. On land insects have large membership in both these categories. Cold-blooded reptiles are constrained to be day active, and the primarily visual birds are also day-active. Amongst the ground dwelling mammals, both habits are quite common. While the flying mammals bats, are all active at night, taking advantage of the paucity of night active birds.Even within these categories, however, not all animals are equally active throughout the day or night. Their activity patterns vary, depending both on changes in the physical environment, as well as in response to the activity pattern of other animals in their habitat.

Dawn and dusk are periods of the most rapid change in light intensities, and most animal use these as cues to initiate or terminate their period of rest. Thus birds become active and bats go to rest at dawn, and the reverse occurs at dusk. If we look further, the Jungle Crow becomes active at lower light intensities than the Indian Myna, and the pipistrelle bats at higher light intensities than the Flying Foxes. Dawn and dusk are also the times at which the air is least turbulent, permitting sound to be carried farthest. That is why birds indulge in their most intense vocalization at these times, giving rise to dawn and dusk choruses; as do monkeys like the Hanuman Langur.Animals also adjust their periods of activity to minimize competition with other species. Thus various species of bees have peaks of flower-visiting activity at different times of the day, and different species of mosquitoes have peak blood-sucking at different times at night.

Such rhythms have greatly fascinated physiologists who have attempted to study them under experimental conditions. It has been shown that the rhythms are not merely imposed from outside, but persist even under totally unchanging conditions. Under these conditions, however, the period of rhythm is not precisely 24-hours, but nearly so, hence these rhythms are known as circadians (circa, about, dies, day). They are adjusted to the diurnal rhythm of light, temperature, etc. Through the external cues. It is now known that animals use social cues provided by other animals as well in adjusting their rhythms. Thus bats confined to deep part of the cave with no environmental cues of light or temperature can still synchronize their activity with the day-night regime by picking up their cues from the vocalization of the other bats in the cave.
Marine animals too exhibit a number of biological rhythms. The zooplankters migrate towards the surface at night and move down deeper during daytime. The animals on the shore adjust their periods of activity in relation to the tides. Furthermore, the tides change not only once or twice a day, but vary in their magnitude with the phase of the moon and the time of the year. Certain marine animals such as the famous Palolo worm of Fiji seem to synchronize their breeding with these tides. Thus the palolo worm swarms to reproduce every year 7 to 9 days after the full moon in November.At the other end from the palolo worm, the entire population of which breeds on just one day in the whole year, is an animal such as our Asiatic elephant which seems to breed, and also to come to musth, at any time of the year. The Chital has an extended breeding season, its rutting coinciding with the monsoon and the season of the birth of calves peaking from January to March, although some calves are born in every month of the year. This coincidence of birth of calves with the most difficult season of the year in terms of food availability is truly puzzling. In Karnataka, the major predator of Chital, the Wild Dog, breeds from January to March, presumably because its food is most plentiful at the time of fawning by chital. Among our birds, the small insectivores such as Warblers breed during the monsoon, apparently because this is the time of maximum abundance of insects to feed their chicks. The birds of prey, on the other hand, breed mostly during December-March, again apparently because this is the time of maximum abundance of their rodent prey which multiplies following the seeding of grasses and cereal crops towards the end of the monsoon.The breeding of herons, storks and other colonially breeding water-birds coincides with the monsoon. Thus at Bharatpur in Rajasthan or Ranganathittu at Shrirangapatna they breed from July to October, the southwest monsoon bringing most of the rains in these parts. On the other hand, at Vedanthangal near Chennai they breed from January to March, this part receiving most of its rainfall during the northeast monsoon. However, this rule is not without exception. Night Herons breed at Ranganathittu from April to August, but near Bangalore, hardly 120 km away, they breed from January to March; similarly Little Cormorants breed at Ranganthittu from July to October, but hardly 80 km away they breed from January to March.

The migratory birds show a remarkable annual rhythm of long distance movements. Many of our ducks, teals and waders breed in Siberia in summer, from April to September. In autumn they migrate south to India, staying here from October to March, moving north again in the spring. The migratory impulses of these birds is known to be controlled by changing day-length. They migrate southwards after breeding in response to decreasing day-length and north after wintering in response to increasing day-length.

Finally, a most spectacular example of biological rhythm is furnished by some species of tropical bamboos. Our commonest species Bambusa arundinacea, flowers and seeds only once in its lifetime at an age of 45-48 years, after which it invariably dies. Moreover, the flowering is synchronized for a whole population so that all the bamboo species flower and die over a region of several thousands of hectares within the space of three to four years. The significance of this seems to lie in the fact that when seeds are very occasionally produced in such large quantities, predators on the seeds such as rodents can only devour a small fraction of them. If on the other hand a much smaller seed crop was produced every year, a much greater fraction of the seed could be destroyed by the predators. Hence, it is likely that massive seeding in a few years has been favoured by natural selection.Animals not only respond to natural cues, but as the persistence of their rhythms under constant conditions shows, they also have endogenous rhythms – Circadian as well as circannual, and perhaps of much longer duration as well as in the case of bamboos. The precise nature of these biological clocks is yet unknown. Animals also use these clocks for purposes other than adjusting behavioural rhythms. Thus honey-bees, as also some fish and birds, are known to use the sun for navigation. However the position of the sun varies with the time of the day. These animals make fine adjustments for such movements of the sun by using biological clock.

Reference: Encyclopedia of Indian Natural History – Edited by R. E. Hawkins for Bombay Natural History Society. 

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Western Ghats, India – Ecological Survival

From the book  ”The Western Ghats” by Mohan Pai (2005).



Annaimudi Peak, Eravikulam, Kerala – Pic by Mohan Pai

It has been said that the interaction between man and nature is largely moulded by the interrelationship of man and man within the human society.
Ecology is the science of the relationships between organisms and their environment.

“The science of living beings in general, and especially of the human individual, has not made such a great progress. It still remains in the descriptive state. Man is an indivisible whole of extreme complexity. No simple representation of him can be obtained. There is no method of comprehending simultaneously in his entirety, his parts and his relations with the outer world.
We are beginning to realise the weakness of our
 civilisation. Many want to shake off the dogmas imposed upon them by modern society – those who are bold enough to understand the necessity, not only mental, political and social changes, but the overthrow of industrial civilisation and of the advent of another conception of human progress”
– Man, the Unknown – Dr. Alexis Carrel.
Malsej Ghats, Maharashtra – Pic by Mohan Pai
We cannot have ecological movement designed to prevent violence against nature, unless the principle of non-violence becomes central to the ethics of human culture 
– Mahatma Gandhi

The Sahyadris – also known as the Western Ghats comprise fragile but vital ecosystems of the Indian subcontinent. Rare, moist deciduous forest type, sub-temperate montane wet grasslands and shola forests, high species endemism, uniqueness of lowland evergreen forest in a monsoonal climate and biogeographical significance of this isolated area between the African and Indo-Malaysian blocks make the Western Ghats a very important biological resource. In fact the Western Ghats like the South American rainforests form the girdle of the earth and help maintain global ecological balance.

The Western Ghats also harbour a large diversity of human cultures – in the less than 20,000 sq. km. of Kerala Western Ghats there are more than 38 distinct tribal communities. This region, which is globally recognised as a hotspot area of great conservation concern is under constant threat due to many anthropogenic factors. And the tide of ecodegradation is sweeping over the entire tract destroying most of the biodiversity.

The hill ranges form an almost unbroken rampart on the fringe of the western peninsula parallel to the west coast of India for about 1600 km. They start immediately south of the Tapti river, the northern most point being, the Kundaibari Pass (21006N, 74011E) in Dhule district of Maharashtra and ending near Kanyakumari (80N) barely 20 km from the sea in Tamil Nadu. The entire range encompasses six States – Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

Malsej Ghats, Maharashtra – Pic by Mohan Pai

The Western Ghats cover an area of approximately 1,59,000 with an average elevation of 900-1500 m. ASL. Rising up from a relatively narrow coastal strip(average width: 40 km), the hills reach up to a height of 2,695 m.(8,843 ft.) at Anaimudi Peak in Kerala before they merge to the east with the Deccan plateau at an altitude of 500-600 m. The average width of the mountain range is about 100 km.

The Living Fulcrum
The hill ranges force the moisture laden monsoon winds coming off the Arabian Sea to rise and receive in consequence heavy precipitation of 2,000 mm or more annually. The rainfall exceeds 7,500 mm per annum in some places on the western windward side (Agumbe, Karnataka). To the lee of the Ghats is the region of rain shadow and the eastern slopes of the Ghats where the rainfall decreases rapidly and are much drier than the western face.
The rainfall is heavier to the south and extends over 8-10 months a year; it is lower and restricted to 4 months of the south-west monsoon in the central and northern parts of the Western Ghats. These marked differences in the geomorphology, rainfall, water regimes and temperatures have given rise to several types of plants and animal species which makes the region one of the richest biodiversity spots or the Living Fulcrum.


Cheeyapara Waterfalls, Kerala – Pic by Mohan Pai

The Western Ghats are remarkable headwaters and the main watershed for the southern peninsula serving six states; sustained by the heavy seasonal rainfall from the south-west monsoon, from which all the major and many smaller rivers of the southern peninsula originate and flow east or west emptying into the coastal waters. All the river runoff in the southern parts of India is controlled by these hills and thus agriculture in the states of Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu is crucially regulated by the Western Ghats. The real merit of the Western Ghats forests in terms of their watershed value is incalculable and ought to concern everybody. These forests once destroyed are gone forever. No amount of scientific knowledge or investment in afforestation can get us back our rivers.
Vanishing Forests
The biggest ecological damage inflicted upon the Western Ghats is deforestation. Tragically for the country and the region, most of the forest cover in the Western Ghats has disappeared.
Ecologically fragile monsoon forests
The forest cover in the Western Ghats seems to have declined between 1972 and 1985 at a rate paralleling that for India as a whole, which implies a loss of over 2.4% annually.
The decline of the primary forest : the amount remaining seems to be no more than 8,000 sq. kms.
All but isolated pockets of original forest have been opened up allowing a takeover by deciduous species and bamboo among other forms of degenerate vegetation.
A study which estimated changes (2002) in the forest cover between 1973 and 1993 in the southern parts of the Western Ghats using satellite data reveals a loss of 25.6 percent forest cover in that period.
Reduction in forest cover and habitat fragmentation has had a very adverse effect on the wildlife of this area. Many species have become highly endangered almost on the verge of extinction – Lion-tailed macaque, Nilgiri langur and Nilgiri tahr.

Nilgiri Tahr, Eravikulam – Pic by Mohan Pai

Path to Economic Development
After independence, India launched itself on the path of modernisation and economic development and nearly six decades of this endeavour has yielded many impressive gains. But as the years have rolled by, there are more and more signs that some grave errors have been committed in the choice of path to development. For this path has led to large scale misuse of the natural resources imposing on the country, huge costs in the form of flood damage, siltation and reduction of life of river valley projects, shortages of fuel and fodder for the rural population and of raw material base for industries.
The hill areas of the Western Ghats have paid a heavy price for the planned development that has led to a considerable degree of intensification of the use of its resources; but without adequate attention to long term sustainability of this resource use pattern.
Its forest wealth is depleted, its reservoirs silting up, its horticulture plagued by outbreaks of new diseases; polluting the environment and bringing little benefits to the local population. The fragile ecosystems of the Ghats have tended to collapse under the assaults of exploitative development of the last few decades.
Tea Gardens at Munnar – Pic by Mohan Pai

Indirectly, the Western Ghats influence the well-being of the entire peninsula through modulating climate, river water flow, ground water recharge, adding fertility to river valley and delta soils, providing a wide range of natural produce for the really impoverished population.

Kamakshi Temple in the Sahyadris, Goa – Pic by Mohan Pai

Save The Western Ghats

Save the Western Ghats is an anguished cry that is heard throughout the southern peninsula, now for several decades. There are sporadic voices of protest from environmentalists and conservationists against the shortsighted developmental activities in this ecologically very fragile region. There have been gatherings and awareness marches in the past. But environmental activism, at best, is fire fighting by a handful of pressure groups or individuals.
The fact remains that half-hearted conservation attempts by the Governments and various agencies amount only to patchy efforts and the rate of deforestation has accelerated in recent years with a steady environmental decline of the whole region. The threat has all the more increased with the combined pressure of urbanisation, industries, mining, deforestation, submergence by dams, introduction of railways, large scale encroachments, poaching etc. The fragmentation of these forests form a major threat to species conservation, and lack of green cover will not only turn the area into barren hills but could result in the devastating cycle of floods and droughts in the downstream areas.
Unless the Governments, International Agencies and the people of the region wake up to the harsh realities, and take some drastic steps for the conservation of the region, this rich, lush, highly resourceful region will be lost forever with very unpleasant and adverse effects on the liveable environment of the subcontinent.
In the hills of the Western Ghats, we confront our future. These mountains influence rainfall, regulate run-off of water into downhill drainage channels and are the most important features of the landscape. Through rivers, the hills control the fate of the valleys and plains. The hills are by themselves rich and at the same time very fragile. Unfortunately they continue to suffer drastic degradation due to human pressure. They need priority attention and careful nursing. These mountains in their remote fastness still shelter the last remnants of our biological and human cultural diversity. Most of our unique representative ecosystems, the last of our endangered plants and animals, our least modified cultures, all find protection in the inaccessibility of these mountains. 

Soliga Tribal Minstrel, B. R. Hills, Karnataka – Pic by Mridula Pai

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