Life on earth is highly diverse ranging from simple life forms like microorganisms to more complex plants & animals. Conservation of such environment and biodiversity is the need of this hour.
Biodiversity is the variety and differences among living organisms from all sources, including terrestrial, marine, and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are a part. Thus, in essence, biodiversity represents all life & variability within it.
Definition of Biodiversity
The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) defines biodiversity as, “the variability among living organisms from all sources including terrestrial, marine & other aquatic ecosystems, and the ecological complexes of which they are part, this includes diversity within species, between species & of ecosystems.
So, Biodiversity encompasses Biodiversity is the multitude of genes, species, communities and ecosystems. recognized at the three levels; i.e., genetic diversity, species diversity & ecosystem diversity.
Genetic Diversity: A single species has a large variety of genes in its gene pool. The sum total of all the genes of a species is called the Gene pool of the species. The variability of genes within the gene pool of a species is called genetic diversity.
Species Diversity: It is the variety of species in different habitats on the Earth. For instance, a large variety of species of plants, animals & microorganisms are found in tropical rainforests.
Ecosystem Diversity: It is the variety of ecosystems in the biosphere. e.g. variety of ecosystems like wetlands, corals, estuaries, deserts, mangroves, temperate forests & so on.
However, for an assessment of biodiversity, the following parameters need to be evaluated:
- Species number (i.e., Species richness)
- Species evenness (i.e., the relative abundance of the species), and
- Species dominance (the most abundant species) also needed to be evaluated.
Biodiversity Hotspots In India
A biodiversity hotspot is a region with a significant reservoir of biodiversity that is under threat from humans. 3 regions that satisfy these criteria exist in India and they are:
(1) Himalaya: Includes the entire Indian Himalayan region (and that falling in Pakistan, Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, China and Myanmar).
(2) Indo-Burma: Includes entire Northeastern India, except Assam. Andaman group of Islands is also a part of this hotspot. (and Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and southern China).
(3) Sundalands: Includes Nicobar group of Islands (and Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Philippines) Western Ghats and Sri Lanka: Includes entire Western Ghats (and Sri Lanka).
Types of Conservation Methods
Conservation can broadly be divided into two types:
- In Situ Conservation Methods
- Ex Situ Conservation Measures
In Situ Conservation Methods
It is the fundamental & principal method of conservation. It means at the site & it is fundamental because it prescribes the protection of wildlife where they naturally occur. This is achieved by establishing a network of Protected areas in which different species & their natural habitats are adequately maintained & preserved.
It is considered the most appropriate way of conserving biodiversity and includes various Protected Areas. These protected areas include wildlife sanctuaries, national parks, biosphere reserves, tiger reserves, Ramsar sites etc.
In-Situ Conservation Measures in India
Various protected areas (reserves) have been established in India for protection and conservation.
Besides, the government has launched various programmes like ‘Project Tiger’ for the conservation of wildlife.
Protected Areas of India (In-Situ Conservation)
Protected areas are those in which human occupation or at least the exploitation of resources is limited.
India is one of the 17 mega-diverse countries of the world. With only 2.4% of the world’s land area, 16.7% of the world’s human population and 18% livestock, it contributes about 8% of the known global biodiversity, however, putting enormous demands on our natural resources.
There are various types of protected areas, and the degree of protection varies according to each country’s enabling legislation or the rules of the international organisations involved.
The term protected area also includes Marine Protected Areas, the boundaries of which will include some area of ocean, and Transboundary Protected Areas that overlap multiple countries which remove the borders inside the area for conservation and economic purposes.
Wildlife Conservation Programmes in India
- Project Hangul or Kashmir Stag, 1970
- Gir Lion Project, 1972
- Project Tiger, 1973
- Crocodile Breeding Project, 1974
- Brow antlered deer (Thamin deer) Project (1977)
- Rhinoceros Conservation Project, 1987
- Project Elephant, 1992
- Project Red Panda, 1996
Ex Situ Conservation Measures
Ex-situ conservation is the preservation of components of biological diversity outside their natural habitats. It means off the Site or away from the Site’. It involves the preservation of sample populations of various species or their genes in scientific facilities, such as zoos, botanical gardens, seed banks, sperm banks, gene banks, pollen banks etc. Some of these includes:
- Gene banks, e.g. seed banks, sperm and ova banks, field banks;
- In vitro plant tissue and microbial culture collections;
- Cryopreservation (preservation at very low temperatures) of gametes and embryos
- Botanical Gardens
- Zoological Gardens or zoos
- Animal translocations to artificial environments like zoos;
- Captive breeding of animals and artificial propagation of plants, with possible reintroduction into the wild
- Collecting living organisms for zoos, aquaria, and botanic gardens for research and public awareness.
In agriculture, ex-situ conservation measures maintain domesticated plants which cannot survive in nature unaided. Ex-situ conservation provides excellent research opportunities on the components of biological diversity.
Various Measures for Biodiversity Conservation
Several types of actions undertaken for species conservation are described below:
Conservation of habitats
Habitat destruction is one of the major factors in the threatening of plants and animals. If adopting eco-friendly practices during urban and other developments, the damage to the habitat can be prevented considerably.
Species which are reduced to dangerous levels need more intensive management, and one strategy is captive breeding. It means the eggs from the nests of endangered birds are taken and hatched in captivity. Captive breeding in zoos, animal breeding parks, and research centres has also been attempted with some success.
Providing Critical Resources
Another way to improve the habitat of a threatened species is to determine which resource is limiting. Identifying and providing that critical resource may help to increase the population.
Control of Introduction of Alien Species
Alien species can cause the existing population to decrease or even become extinct. The individuals of alien species may affect the other species by preying on them, providing tough competition for food, or destroying their habitat. The alien species can also cause a population explosion of existing species by killing off their natural predators.
Development of Reserves
The establishment of Biological reserves, National parks, Forest reserves, Wildlife refuges and Biosphere reserves are effective means of preserving wildlife species. Besides, the maintenance cost and requirement of resources is minimal. An important aspect about these reserves is that more than one endangered species can be protected in the same area.
Several legal approaches have been used to preserve biodiversity. One is to enact laws regulating the killing of members of certain species, with severe penalties for breaking the law. These laws may be very effective.
Example: In 1975, 81 nations signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) which prohibits all trade of endangered species or their products. All these laws are good only if they are enforced and are able to save animals’ lives.
Research and Documentation
First, a list of endangered species is established by various national and international agencies. Another important action used to save an endangered species is the compilation of information about it.
Public Awareness and People’s Participation
Public awareness is an important aspect of the conservation of the environment and biodiversity.
Significance of Biodiversity for Human Welfare
The human interest perspective considers the significance of biodiversity for the welfare of mankind. It involves the following:
For Food Security
Man in recent days is over-dependent on only a few crop varieties & crop monocultures for food production. Thus the preservation of wild varieties of crop species is inevitable to ensure global food security.
For Medicinal Purposes
Active ingredients of many drugs are derived from living resources. However, we have screened only a small part of these vast resources for their medicinal applications. For instance, only 1% of the plants from tropical rainforests have been studied for their medicinal use. 99% of this wealth remains yet to explore for its potential of curing human suffering.
For Ecological Services
Biodiversity renders a variety of ecological services vital to the survival of mankind, which are usually taken for granted.
These involve, for pollination of plants by bees vital to agriculture, decomposition of dead organic material, bioremediation, soil aeration & soil fertility enrichment by earthworms and other soil microorganisms, biodegradation of sewage & contaminants, temperature moderation by plants, plants as natural sinks of carbon etc.
Biotechnology mainly deals with the manipulation of genetic resources for human welfare. So. it depends on the availability of useful genes like pest-resistant genes, drought-resistant genes etc. for manipulation. The future requirements of useful genes can be met only if we perverse & maintain as diverse a gene pool as we have today.
For Natural Products
Man has been using living resources from prehistoric times to produce useful materials such as various fibres (cotton, silk & spider silk), vegetable oils & fat, shellac, casein(a milk protein) etc.
Conservation of Western Ghats Ecology
Several committees have been appointed to submit reports for the conservation of biodiversity of the western ghat. A few important of them are:
Madhav Gadgil Committee Report on the Western Ghats
Gadgil Commission, formally known as Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) submitted the to the Government of India on 31 August 2011.
The major criticism faced by the Gadgil Committee report was that it was more environment-friendly and not in tune with the ground realities. The report was cited as impractical to implement.
Kasturirangan committee on the Western Ghats
The Kasturirangan committee, known as the high-level working group (HLWG), was constituted to examine the WGEEP report.
If Gadgil’s report laid too much importance on the environment, Kasturirangan’s report was biased towards development.
Kasturirangan report was criticized by many as it provided loopholes for mining, which if allowed would turn detrimental to the environment, in long term will affect development too.
Kasturirangan report was described as anti-environmental soon after its release. But this report described anti-development too by many who fear that their livelihood and interests will be affected.
Oommen V Oommen Committee
As people turned violent and started protests, Kerala appointed another expert committee. The important recommendations of the committee are:
- The government should make changes in the clauses of Environmentally Fragile Land (EFL) in the Western Ghats.
- The committee found serious lapses in determining the EFL areas. The committee adopted a survey to determine EFL and even plantations and estates were included in it.
- It also recommended stopping land acquisition proceedings as per the Kasturirangan committee report.
- The panel has made several pro-farmer recommendations, including the exclusion of inhabited regions and plantations from the purview of ecologically sensitive areas (ESAs).
- Human settlements should be exempted from the category of ESAS after examining the population density of these areas.
- It also said farmers should not be prohibited from rearing hybrid varieties of milking animals.
- It also suggested extending the grace period given to shift to organic farming from five years to 10 years.
Article Written By: Priti Raj