India is a fortunate country for having rich and varied heritage of biodiversity, ranging from tropical rainforests to alpine vegetation and from temperate forests to coastal wetlands, India has to its credit a large number of national parts, wildlife sanctuaries and Hotspots of the estimated 10 million species worldwide, only 1.7 million have been described till today. They distribution of these species is highly uneven. About seven percent of the world's land is home to over half of the world's species. The tropics alone account to 5 million species. India contributes significantly to the latitudinal biodiversity trend. With just 2.4% of the world's areas, India accounts to 7.31% of the world's species which number around 89,431.
MEANING AND IMPORTANCE OF BIODIVERSITY
Meaning: Biodiversity is the sum total of all the varieties of species of plants, animals and micro-organisms living on the earth it also includes the habitat in which they live some scientists estimate that more than 10 million species live on our earth and some believe that this number can be more than 100 million.
In other words, the term biodiversity means the number, variety and variability of living organisms in various ecosystems. All type of life whether terrestrial or aquatic are included in this term.
Biodiversity underlies wide range of activities from food production to medicinal research throughout the world man uses at least 40,000 species of plants and animals everyday. A large number of people around the world still depend on wild species for food, shelter and clothing.
All domesticated plants as well as animals came from wild-living ancestral species.
Importance: Many organisms have instrumental value for man. Some of the benefits we derive from biodiversity are:-
• Food: Food is the most important value of biological diversity. Earlier, the plants were consumed directly. With the growth of civilization the wild species became the foundation for agriculture.
• Medicines: Medicines are also produced from different plant and animal species. In traditional practices of Ayurveda, many plants and their extracts are directly consumed or applied as medicines.
• Raw Materials: Many industrial raw materials are procured from plants as well as animals. A large population still uses firewood as a fuel.
• Biotechnology: Biotechnology is the recent development which uses genes of organisms to make new crops. It has led to development of new branch called genetic engineering.
• Recreation: Recreation in the form of nature photography, bird watching, trekking wildlife tourism etc. is enabled by biodiversity.
BIODIVERSITY IN INDIA
India is a fortunate country for having rich and varied heritage of biodiversity. It has a variety of habitats ranging from tropical rainforests to alpine vegetation and from temperate forests to coastal wetlands. The two hotspots of biodiversity in India are the Western Ghats and the Eastern Ghats. In 1980's around 8 biodiversity hotspots were identified. Recently, a team of scientists has bought out a list of 25 such hotspots.
Features of India's Biodiversity
• Major realms of biodiversity in India are Indo-Malayan, tropical humid forests, tropical delicious forests and the worm deserts.
• India has ten biogeography regions that include trans- Himalayan, the Himalayan, the Indian desert, the semi-arid Zone (S), the western Ghats, the Deccan peninsula, the Gangetic Plain, North – east India, the is lands and the coasts.
• India is one of the twelve centers of cultivated plants.
• India has five world heritage sites, twelve biosphere reserves and six Ramsar Wetlands. Amongst the protected areas, India has 88 national parks and 490 sanctuaries covering an area of 1.53 lakh Sq. Km.
The restrictedness of Indian biodiversity is very high. About 33% of country's flora and fauna are endemic to the country and are concentrated mainly in four regions: North – East, Western Ghats, North – west Himalaya and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands of 49,219 Plant species, 5150 are restricted or endemic and distributed into 141 genera (Closely related species) under 47 families corresponding to about 30% of the world's recorded flora. This means 30% of the world's recorded floras are endemic to India. Of these endemic species, 3,500 are found in Himalayas and adjoining regions and 1600 in the Western Ghats alone. About 62% of the Known amphibian species are again restricted with majority occurring in Western Ghats.
DIVISIONS OF INDIAN BIODIVERSITY
BIODIVERSITY OF HIMALAYAS
Himalayan flora : Himalayas are one of the hotspots of India. A variety of plant life grows here as a result of varied climate. Both the vegetation as well as wildlife change with altitude and resulting wildlife climatic conditions. Thousands of species of flora and fauna flourish here which adapt to climate predators and other challenges. However many Himalayan species have become extinct and are threatened on the verge of extinction it is directly attributable to the intervention of man in the ecosystem given below is the brief description of tremendous wealth of the Himalayas.
(I) Vertical Change in vegetation : Himalayan vegetation varies with altitude and climate. As a result variety of trees grow here in the foothill zone, we can find the tropical delicious forests Tropical delicious forests are found in the areas of lower rainfall. They are mainly found in the slopes of the Himalayas trees of these forests shed their leaves once a year. Teak and Sal are common in the areas of delicious vegetation.
In the middle altitudes, the temperate forests grow. Pine, spruce, cedar, fir, juniper are common of middle altitudes. Further high, there are coniferous, subs – alpine and alpine forests. Still above these are areas of permanent grasslands and high altitude melons that gradually disappear in the zone of permanent snowline.
(II) Horizontal Change in Vegetation : The Himalayan vegetation is marked by the tropical Rainforests of Eastern Himalayas and alpine forests of central and western Himalayas. The tropical rainforests of eastern Himalayas are dense, evergreen and gloomy which resemble the areas of Amazon basin.
In the cold desert of Trans Himalayas we find only sparse desert vegetation Chir Pine grows throughout the Western Himalayas except Kashmir. Other major types of vegetation in western Himalayas are: Chilgoza or pine nut, maple, ash and oak.
Changes bought by man : Just like many other areas on Earth, the Himalayas have also been encroached by man. With the increase in population, the demands for forest products also grew. The delicate natural balance got disturbed and forest cover started reducing in size. The man cut a large number of trees to meet his domestic and industrial demands. Forests have also been cleared for agriculture. Many species have become extinct and many others are endangered.
Himalayan Fauna : The animal Kingdom in the Himalayas in as diverse as the plant kingdom. The Himalayan wildlife differs greatly from the wildlife of other parts India. The animals live in different habitats, ranging from deciduous forests to alpine.
In the Himalayas, animals of lower altitude too are adapted to warmer conditions whereas, animals of alpine region can live even in the betting cold in the eastern Himalayas, the climate is warm and moist, so the animals adjust accordingly. Seasonal movements with the change in season many animals shift to lower altitudes in winters in search of food. As soon as the winters are over, they migrate to higher reaches animals of extremely cold areas have thick fur and bushy tails. Animals of higher reaches are adapted to rarefied air, therefore, have larger nasal cavities.
Carnivores of Himalayas are elusive of all the mammals of Himalayas some of them are threatened and are rare like snow leopard. It is due to indiscriminate hunting by man. The lower region is an area of bigger mammals like swamp deer, cheetel, hog deer, barking deer, wild boar, tiger, panther, wild dog, black and sloth bear and elephant. Besides, prominent scavengers like hyena and Jackal are also present. The common animals in the higher altitude of Western Himalayas are goat, sheep, yak and wild – ass. Ibex is a famous species of goat. Thar and Marknor are also popular species of goat.
In the Eastern Himalayas, wildlife is significantly different from other parts of Himalayas. Some of animals common in the region are red panda, badgers, porcupines, ferrets etc. the popular goats found in the region are serow, goral and takin.
BIODIVERSITY IN TROPICAL RAINFORESTS
The region of tropical rainforests comprises of Eastern Himalayas, Western Ghats, west Bengal and Andaman and Nicobar Islands. All these regions receive heavy rainfall evergreen trees are prominent feature of these forests. In these forests the upper most storey consists of tall trees and makes the canopy that doesn't allow the sunlight to enter. Trees of comparatively lesser height make the second storey. They remain in shade of trees. This think and dense vegetation provides habitat to a number of animals. These prominent animals are elephant, Nilgiri Langur, Lion tailed macaque, Slender Toris, Malabar civet and spring mouse. Gaint squirrels, civets and bats are also found in the tropical forests. Red panda and golden Langur are typical of the Eastern Himalayas.
Rainforests of Andaman and Nicobar Islands have Characteristic features because they are free from Human interference. Here we can find the most beautiful rainforests of the world more than 200 species of trees grow here some of them are: Padauk, Gurjain, Silver gray etc. the common animals of these islands are : wild Pig, hombill, Andaman teal, Nicobar Pigeon, white beuied sea eagle, Andaman cat Snake, Nicobar legless snake etc.
Mangrove forests in the Sunderban delta in west Bengal are habitat of Bengal tigers. Highest numbers of tigers are found in this part of India other prominent animals spotted are deer, pig, monkey, lizard, water monitor, crocodile, crab and fish. The tigers of these forests can swim in water. It mainly preys on the spotted deer, wild boar and fish Bengal Tigers also attack humans.
BIODIVERSITY IN TROPICAL DECIDUOUS FORESTS
Most parts of India are covered by topical deciduous forests. Trees of this region shed their leaves once in a year. They grow mainly in Peninsular India and Indo-Gangetic Plains. The area under tropical deciduous forests extends from the base of Himalayas to Kanyakumari. The region is home for a variety of flora and fauna.
In the western parts, the region is comparatively dry. The western most part is called the Thar Desert. It receives minimum rainfall. The flora of this region consists of dry tropical, dry mixed deciduous, Thom forests, scrub forests and dry savanna forests. In the extreme west, xerophytes vegetation is dominant. This vegetation has thick outer layer from which evapotranspiration is minimum many of the desert plants are thorny with reduced leaf surface. Cacti and succulents are major plant species of desert area. Fauna of this region is also diverse the prominent animals are sambhar, wild boar, gaur, Chettal, hog deer, swamp deer or barasingha, nilgai, black buck, elephant, muntjak, common mongoose, wolf, squirrel, hare, wild dog, tiger, leopard, lion, hyena, jackal, jungle cat etc.
Many of the animals are endemic to the region. Animals of desert area are adapted to face the water scarcity and extreme hot conditions. Asiatic wild – ass and black – buck are the main animals of the desert area.
The major national parks of the region are : simplipal in Orissa; ramthambore and Sariska in Rajasthan; Belta in Jharkhand; van Bihar in Madhya Pradesh etc.
AGRO BIODIVERSITY IN INDIA
India is also centre for crop diversity it is the homeland of 167 cultivated species and 320 wild relatives of crop plants.
India's record in agro – biodiversity is again very impressive there are 167 crop species and wild relatives. India is considered to be centre of origin of 30,000 to 50,000 species of rice, pigeon pea, mango, turmeric, ginger, sugarcane, goose – berries etc. and ranks seventh in terms of contribution to world agriculture.
ECONOMIC POTENTIAL OF BIODIVERSITY
Both plants and animals are a source of variety of food products. Wheat and rice are the staple food in India. Farmers also grow vegetables, cash crops, cereals etc. orchards are the source of fruit many plants are a source of medicines. Several life saving drugs are obtained from them animals like sheep and goat provide wool. Domesticated animals like horse, camel etc. help in transportation activities. Still in many parts of India, fuel wood is the only source of energy. Forests amount to store of huge potential of fuel wood energy.
Biodiversity also helps in making the air clean. Through photo synthesis, plants absorb carbon Dioxide and release oxygen large tracks of forests help in absorbing and decomposing pollutants. They help in maintaining hydrological cycle, protecting and recharging of watershed. It helps in making the water clean.
The conservation of biodiversity is of two types: the In Situ conservation and the Ex Situ conservation. Normally, the In Situ conservation is more cost effective however, in some cases the ex-situ conservation has to be adopted.
(I) IN SITU CONSERVATION
The major objective of protecting the biodiversity is that the ecosystem and biodiversity are able to flourish and evolve.
First of all, in situ conservation requires the identification of areas that are to be protected or that have very high biodiversity it can be done by establishing national parks and national reserves. A reserve is split into patches to provide corridors for the movement of animals.
Various Strategies for in situ conservation are :
• Surveys : Data on species diversity populations, locations, extent of habitat, major threats etc. are collected. In our country the ‘Ministry of Environment and forests plays a guiding role by pre-paring a list of priority issues and areas.
• Biosphere Reserve : A Biosphere reserve is an international conservation designation given by UNESCO. It is created to promote balanced relationship between humans and biosphere. The non-conservation activities are totally prohibited in the biosphere reserve. As on June 2005, there are 482 biosphere reserves in 102 countries of the world.
• National Park : It is a reserve of land that is owned and declared by the national government of a country. A National park is usually located in under developed areas and is protected from human developmental activities and pollution. It is a reserve of land to save exceptional native plants and animals, Scenic beauty of landscape, geological formations etc. At present, there are around 4000 national parks throughout the world. In India, there are 89 national parks that cover 1% of the countries land area.
(II) EX SITU CONSERVATION
The approach of ex-situ conservation is used to preserve biodiversity in an artificial setting. It includes ways like storage of seeds in banks, breeding of animals in 2005, setting up of aquariums, botanical gardens, research institutes etc.
• Captive Breeding : It is the process of breeding endangered animals by capturing them from their natural environment and then breeding them in unfavourable conditions. Later, they are realized back to their natural habitat when threats to the animals is lessened or removed. This activity is being practiced in many parts of the world with great success.
• Botanical Gardens : The botanical gardens grow a variety of plants purposes. In most cases, they are displayed for public, because they have educative value also many botanical gardens depend on public for funding while some are funded by other institutions or the government. The botanical gardens sent their plant collecting expeditions to various parts of the world and publish their findings.
• Gene Banks : Gene Banks is means to preserve the genetic material scientists preserve the plant genetic material in the form of seeds or freezing cuts of plants. The animal genetic material is preserved by freezing the sperms and eggs in zoological freezers. Scientists have thus prevented a gene family from ending.
The reality of relationship of people and wildlife is often a conflict. The confrontations between wildlife and human interest can be tackled and the impact can be reduced by adopting several conservation practices. With increasing pressure from humans competing for natural resources, the conflict between the rural and wildlife is inevitable. Resolving such conflicts is really a challenging task.
Traditionally, the wildlife conservation has been restricted to protect wilderness areas only. Today, the divide between wild and human dominated ecosystem is becoming less clear, therefore, conservation programs must take their struggle beyond national parks to protect wildlife. Moreover, the Indian government needs to issue clear guidelines and stricter laws to protect Indian biodiversity.