Biodiversity and its Conservation

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Table of Contents:
1. What is biodiversity?
Genetic Diversity
Species Diversity
Ecosystem Diversity
2. Bio-geographic Classification of India
3. Importance of Biodiversity
4. Biodiversity at Global, National and Local Levels
Biodiversity Conventions
Biological Diversity Act 2002
India as Mega Diversity Nation
Hotspots of Biodiversity
5. Threat to Biodiversity
6. Conservation of Biodiversity

What is biodiversity?

  • Biological diversity deals with the degree of nature’s variety in the biosphere.              
  • This variety can be observed at three levels;
    • Genetic Diversity (Genetic variability within a species)
    • Species Diversity (Variety of species within a community)
    • Ecosystem Diversity (Organisation of species in an area into distinctive plant and animal communities constitutes ecosystem diversity)

Genetic Diversity:      

  • Each member of any animal or plant species differs widely from other individuals in its genetic makeup because of the large number of combinations possible in the genes that give every individual specific characteristic.
  • This genetic variability is essential for a healthy breeding population of a species. If the number of breeding individuals is reduced, the dissimilarity of genetic makeup is reduced and in-breeding occurs.
  • Eventually this can lead to the extinction of the species. The diversity in wild species forms the ‘gene pool’ from which our crops and domestic animals have been developed over thousands of years.

Species Diversity:   

  • The number of species of plants and animals that are present in a region constitutes its species diversity.
  • The value of a natural forest, with all its species richness is much greater than a plantation.

Ecosystem Diversity:

  • Definition: The living community of plants and animals in any area together with the non-living components of the environment such as soil, air and water, constitute the ecosystem.
  • There are a large variety of different ecosystems on earth, which have their own complement of distinctive inter linked species based on the differences in the habitat.
  • Ecosystem diversity can be described for a specific geographical region. Distinctive ecosystems include landscapes such as forests, grasslands, deserts, mountains, etc., as well as aquatic ecosystems such as rivers, lakes, and the sea.
  • An ecosystem is referred to as ‘natural’ when it is relatively undisturbed by human activities or ‘modified’ when it is changed to other types of uses, such as farmland or urban areas.

Bio-geographic Classification of India

Based on the geography, climate and pattern of vegetation and animal living in them, India can be divided into 10 bio-geographic zones:

  1. The cold mountainous snow covered Trans Himalayan region of Ladakh
  2. The Himalayan ranges and valleys of Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Assam and other North Eastern States
  3. The Terai, the lowland where the Himalayan Rivers flow into the plains
  4. The Gangetic and Bhramaputra plains
  5. The Thar Desert of Rajasthan
  6. The semi arid grassland region of the Deccan plateau Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu
  7. The Northeast States of India
  8. The Western Ghats in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala
  9. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
  10. The long western and eastern coastal belt with sandy beaches, forests and mangroves

Importance of Biodiversity

  • Production of oxygen, reducing carbon dioxide, maintaining the water cycle and protecting soil are important services.
  • Biological diversity is also essential for preserving ecological processes, such as fixing and re-cycling of nutrients, soil formation, circulation and cleansing of air and water, global life support (plants absorb CO2, give out O2), maintaining the water balance within ecosystems, watershed protection, maintaining stream and river flows throughout the year, erosion control and local flood reduction.
  • Food, clothing, housing, energy, medicines, are all resources that are directly or indirectly linked to the biological variety present in the biosphere.

Social Values:

  • The consumptive and productive value of biodiversity is closely linked to social concerns in traditional communities. People value biodiversity as a part of their livelihood as well as through cultural and religious sentiments.
  • A great variety of crops have been cultivated in traditional agricultural systems and this permit- ted a wide range of produce to be grown and marketed throughout the year and acted as an insurance against the failure of one crop.
  • In recent years farmers have begun to receive economic incentives to grow cash crops for national or international markets, rather than to supply local needs.

Moral Values:

  • All forms of life have the right to exist on earth. Man is only a small part of the Earth’s great family of species.
  • Indian civilization has over several generations preserved nature through local traditions. This has been an important part of the ancient philosophy of many of our cultures.
  • We have in our country a large number of sacred groves or ‘deorais’ preserved by tribal people in several States. These sacred groves around ancient sacred sites and temples act as gene banks of wild plants.

Alternative or Option Value:

  • Keeping future possibilities open for their use is called option value.
  • It is impossible to predict which of our species or traditional varieties of crops and domestic animals will be of great use in the future.
  • To continue to improve cultivars and domestic livestock, we need to return to wild relatives of crop plants and animals.
  • Thus the preservation of biodiversity must also include traditionally used strains already in existence in crops and domestic animals.

Biodiversity at Global, National and Local Levels

  • Most of the world’s bio-rich nations are in the South, which are the developing nations. In contrast, the majority of the countries capable of exploiting biodiversity are Northern nations, in the economically developed world.
  • Countries with diversities higher than India are located in South America such as Brazil, and South East Asian countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia.
  • The species found in these countries, however, are different from our own. This makes it imperative to preserve our own biodiversity as a major economic resource.
  • Throughout the world, the value of biologically rich natural areas is now being increasingly appreciated as being of unimaginable value.

Biodiversity Conventions:

  • 2011- 2020 has been declared as the Decade of Biodiversity by UNO
  • Throughout the world Terrestrial Biome is greater than that of Ocean
  • Cartegena Protocol: Biosafety
    • LMO- capable of replicating genetically
  • Nagoya Protocol: Equitable sharing
    • Recognizes national sovereignty on all genetic material
    • Covers traditional knowledge about biodiversity genetic knowledge (TK) also
  • Aichi Target: Outcome of Nagoya Protocol
    • 20 Headline targets for Biodiversity conservation

Biological Diversity Act 2002

Objective: To regulate access to genetic resources and associated sharing arrangements

Features:

  • All foreign national require approval from NBA for obtaining Biological Resources. Indian nationals also require approval for transferring any biological resources to foreign countries.
  • It has the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) at the apex level and Biodiversity Management Committee (BMC) at the local level, with an intermediate State Biodiversity Board (SBB). 

Functions of BMCs:

  • Preserve and promote local biodiversity- breeds of birds, animals and plants.
  • Prepare People’s Biodiversity Register (PBR)- an Electronic database with inputs from locals.
  • Maintain data medicinal plants/resources used by local Vaidya (traditional healer).
  • Advice State & National Biodiversity Boards on matters related to local biodiversity.
  • Under Nagoya Protocol of Convention on Biodiversity (CBD), they can collect fees for granting access to Biodiversity register to researchers and commercial companies.

In spite of significant responsibilities with BMCs, they achieved only limited success due to:

  • Lack of capacity building regarding legal/  genetic status of resources
  • Fearing erosion of authority, PRIs and Forest Department do not cooperate
  • UNDP and UNEP funds not utilized due to red tapism 

India as Mega Diversity Nation

Geological events in the landmass of India led to its special geographical position between three distinctive centres of biological evolution and radiation of species is responsible for our rich and varied biodiversity:

  1. A split in the single giant continent led to the formation of northern and southern continents, with India a part of Gondwanaland- the southern landmass, together with Africa, Australia and the Antarctic.
  2. Later tectonic movements shifted India northward across the equator to join the Northern Eurasian continent. Therefore, plants and animals that had evolved both in Europe and in the Far East migrated into India.
  3. A final influx came from Africa with Ethiopian species, which were adapted to the Savannas and semi-arid regions.

India has a high biodiversity of Indian wild plants and animals and there is also a great diversity of cultivated crops and breeds of domestic live stock. This is a result of several thousand years during which civilizations have grown and flourished in the Indian subcontinent.

Hotspots of Biodiversity:

It has been estimated that 20% of global plant life exists probably in only 18 ‘Hotspots’ in the world. Countries which have a relatively large proportion of these hot spots of diversity are referred to as ‘Mega Diversity Nations’.

Hot Spots in India are:

  • North-Eastern Forests
  • Western Ghats,
  • Andaman and Nicobar Islands

Threat to Biodiversity

Habitat loss:

  • Man has begun to overuse or misuse (over exploitation) most of these natural ecosystems. Due to this ‘unsustainable’ resource use, once productive forests and grasslands have been turned into deserts and wastelands have increased all over the world.
  • Much of this mega extinction spasm is related to human population growth, industrialization and changes in land-use patterns. A major part of these extinctions will occur in ‘bio rich’ areas such as tropical forests, wetlands, and coral reefs.
  • Introduction of species (alien species invasion) from one area into another, disturbing the balance in existing communities. The accidental introduction of organisms (Eupatorium, Lantana,   Hyacinth, Congress grass) has led to the extinction of many local species.
  • Loss of species occurs due to the destruction of natural ecosystems, either for conversion to agriculture or industry, or by over extraction of their resources, or through pollution of air, water and soil.
  • Repeated fires started by local grazers to increase grass growth ultimately reduces regeneration and lowers the diversity of plant species. Cultivation by slash and burn in the Himalayas, and ‘rab’ by lopping of tree branches to act as a wood ash fertilizer in the Western Ghats, are two such systems.

Poaching of wild life:

  • Specific threats to certain animals are related to large economic benefits. Skin and bones from tigers, ivory from elephants, horns from rhinos and the perfume from the must deer are extensively used abroad.
  • Bears are killed for their gall bladders. Corals and shells are also collected for export or sold on the beaches.
  • A variety of wild plants with real or at times dubious medicinal value are being over harvested.

Man-wildlife conflicts

  • Man-wildlife conflict refers to the interaction between wild animals and people and the consequential negative impact on both of them.
  • Human population growth and the resultant destruction of wildlife habitat for human habitation and economic prosperity create reduction of resources or life to some people and wild animals.
  • Although man-wildlife conflict is as old as human civilization, in modern times the degree of conflict has been on the rise due to high rise in human population in the past several centuries.

Conservation of Biodiversity

  • In-situ conservation: Conservation in their natural habitat such as ‘Protected Areas’ like Biosphere Reserves, National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries                                         
  • Ex-situ conservation: Conservation in outside their natural habitat in a carefully controlled situation such as a botanical garden for plants or a zoological park for animals.                

Categories of Conservation Areas:

  • Sanctuary and National Park: Declared by State Govt via notification (under Wildlife Protection Act 1972)
    • Required to pass only a resolution for alteration in the boundary
    • Difference: No activity allowed in National Park, limited allowed in Sanctuary
    • National Board for Wild Life (NBWL): The National Board for Wildlife is chaired by Prime Minister and its vice chairman is Minister of Environment. Further, the board is mammoth body with 47-members including Parliament Members, NGOs, eminent conservationists, ecologists and environmentalists, Government secretaries of various departments, Chief of the Army Staff, Director General of Forests, tourism etc. etc.
    • Primary function of the Board is to promote the conservation and development of wildlife and forests. It has power to review all wildlife-related matters and approve projects in and around national parks and sanctuaries.
  • Tiger Reserve: under Wildlife Protection Act 1972
    • NTCA as nodal executive agency
    • Any Sanctuary or National Park can be declared as Tiger Reserve by the State Govt via notification with the approval by NTCA
    • Chairman of the National Tiger Conservation Authority is Minister for Environment & Forests. It has eight experts or professionals having qualifications and experience in wildlife conservation and welfare of people including tribals, apart from three Members of Parliament (1 Rajya Sabha, 2 Lok Sabha)
    • The Inspector General of Forests, in charge of project Tiger is the ex-officio Member Secretary.
  • Biosphere Reserve: Declared by Center (Funding) and the State (machinery) Govts via notification (not under Wildlife Protection Act, no legislative backing)
  • Project Elephant: 1993
    • Declared as the National Heritage Animal by Center

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