* Additional Director, Ministry of Environment & forests, Govt. of India, New Delhi
** Reader, CAS in Marine Biology, Annamalai University, Parangipettai, Tamilnadu
India is one of the richest countries in biological diversity. This rich biodiversity is due to a variety of climatic conditions prevailing on different ecological habits ranging from tropical, sub-tropical, temperate, alpine to desert. The country has 10 biogeographic regions: Trans- Himalayan, Himalayan, deserts, semi-arid, western ghats, deccan peninsula, Gangetic plains, north east India, islands and coasts. These varied conditions harbour a plethora of organisms, which forms an important nature s wealth, responsible for socio-economic development of life in our country. But the biodiversity of organisms are under serious threat of disappearance, due to unsustainable developments of the green revolution of agriculture, white revolution for dairy products and blue revolution for fish productions. There is an urgent need for another revolutions for biodiversity conservation, keeping all the other revolutions for their sustainability.
Magnitude of Indian biodiversity:
India has a total of about 45,000 species of plants, that is 7% of the world s recorded flora. The number of species by groupwise is : fungi -23,000, angiosperms - 15,000, bryophytes - 2,564, algae -2,500 , pteridophytes - 1,022, bacteria - 850, and gymnosperms - 64. The species richness is high in pteridophytes with 1,022 species and in the family -orchidaceae with 1,082 species.
There are about 77,000 species of animals, representing 6.9% of the world s total recorded fauna. The number of species by group-wise is : arthropoda - 57,525, lower groups - 9,214, mollusca - 5,042, pisces - 2,546, birds-1,228, ehinodermata - 765, reptiles - 428, amphibia- 204, mammals - 372, prochorodata - 116, hemichordata - 12. Of the fauna, insects are predominant.
A large number of species is native of India. About 5,000 species of flowering plants belonging to 141 genera and 47 families had a birth in India. There are 62%of amphibian species and 50% of lizards, endemic to our country, with large numbers in western ghats. It is important to note that India is the origin place of 166 species of crop plants and 320 species of wild relatives of cultivated crops.
India is rich in marine biodiversity along the coastline of 7,500 km with exclusive economic zone of 2,02 million sq.km,supporting the most productive ecosystems such as mangroves,coral reefs, estuaries, lagoons and backwaters. The number of zooplankton recorded is 15,966 species with the biomass ranging from 0.1 to 37 ml per cubic metre. The benthic fauna largely consists of Polychaeta (62%), crustacea (20%), and molluscus (18%) with the biomass of about 12 gm per sq metre. Over 630 species of marine algae have been reported. There are 14 species of seagrass with total standing crop of 7,500 metric tonnes. There are about 45 species of mangrove plants. Over 342 species of corals belonging to 76 genera have been reported and 50% of the world s reef building corals are found in India.
Lacunae in Indian biodiversity :
Species diversity in India is more to be known. Marine biodiversity is very imperfectly known, as compared to other diversities. Total number of species exists in India alone is estimated at 17,500, of which only 12.85% species have been described and 87.15% more species are yet to be documented. Only 6.5% of total world s species -that is 7% of flora and 6.2% of fauna - have so far been described in India. The percentage of species which is yet to be described is bacteria - 99.6, viruses - 99, fungi-95.2, nematodes - 93.8, algae- 90, arachnids- 90, insects- 88.3 protozoa- 80, crustaceans - 73.8, mollusc - 65, plants- 15.63, vertebrates - 10, and others-54.
Values of Indian Biodiversity :
The value of biodiversity has been realized by our society from time immemorial and is being conserved in the names of sacred groves , sacred seeds , and sacred species . The ecosystems rich in biodiversity influence the agriculture, live stock, forestry and fishery sectors, contributing to more than one third of our national income. In biodiversity - based systems, half a calories of energy produces one calories of food; in homogeneous systems, 10 colories of energy produce only one colorie. The former system is capable of resistant to any environment perturbations whereas the latter is sensitive to them.
The biodiversity serves as the source of life-saving drugs and novel chemicals of high economic value. About 90% of all medicines in India come from plant species, many of which are harvested in the wild. There is a general complaint that the medicinal plants are robbed by the pharmaceutical companies from the third world countries like India. The value of such medicinal plants ranges from an estimated US$ 4.7 billion now to US$ 47 billion by the year 2000. The plant, Rauwolfa serpentina, from our country forms the base for drugs which sell up to US$260 million a year in the US alone. It seems that major pharmaceutical companies from some developed countries, are now actively involved in taping the information about traditional knowledge of natural medicines by recruiting ethanobotanists in third world countries like India. The flora and fauna including bacteria, algae , fungi, protozoa, corals, sponges and anemones -are being screened by the companies /research institutions for natural products in development of drugs.
Indian Biodiversity under serious threat :
There has been a fast disappearance of tropical forests in countries like India , at a rate of about 0.6% per year (about 7.3 million ha). At this rate, all closed tropical forests would disappear within 177 years. It has been estimated that with the present rate of destruction of tropical forests, 20-25% of the worlds plant species will be lost by the year 2000. There is another estimate to state that 90% of tropical forest area containing about 505 of world plant species will be destroyed during the next 20 years. Yet another report states that the current extinction rate is 1000 species and this figure is expected to rise to ten thousand species a year (one species an hour). During the next 20 years, one million species possibly may disappear.
The loss of diversity is also very severe in agricultural ecosystems. Thousands of wild crop varieties were replaced with a few hybrid species, during green revolution. This resulted in the disappearance of our genetic resources of crop plants especially for wheat and rice. With the disappearance of the plants, the associated microorganisms and fauna were also lost. Besides this, indiscriminate use of fertilizers and other chemicals reduced the microbial species diversity. Live stock populations have already been homogenised and their diversity is extinct.
Marine life and habitats are under serious threat of destruction of diversity. Much of the fragile breeding and feeding grounds for almost two thirds of the world s oceanic fish have been destroyed. The endangered marine life in India have been documented and they are about 8 species of marine mammals, 5 species of marine turtles, 1 species of hemichordate, 3 species of cephalochordate, 6 species of echinoderms, 2 species of xiophosurans (Meristoma), 15 species of molluscs, 10 species of crab and 1 species each of Echiuroid and Brachiopod and the whale sharks, marine catfish, the white fish, the flat head fish, thread fins, the eel, etc.
Threats to Indian biodiversity :
The major cause for the loss of biological diversity is the expansion of agriculture practices in this country. The areas with rich biological diversity were shifted by the modern practices into the areas of cultivation with a few species of hybrid crop plants. Similar attempts have also been made in forestry, fisheries and animal husbandry. Thus the biological diversity has already been replaced with biological uniformity or monoculture, in the names of green revolution in agriculture, white revolution in dairying and blue revolution in fisheries. Of course, the purpose of all these revolutions was genuine for ensuring the food security to the growing human population in this country, otherwise, it would have created a hunger disaster in this country during 1960 s. But the blunder was our non-awareness of the values of biodiversity and ignorance of conserving them. Now it is realised and necessary actions are being well-taken. The Ministry of Environment and Forests, Govt of India has highly committed and dedicated to ensure the environmental security of this country.
Another cause for loss of biodiversity is the habitat destruction due to reclamation activities of building dams, factories, highways, mining operations etc., in the forested regions rich in biodiversity. Illegal trade and poaching of wildlife products also have damaged the diversity. In general, biodiversity is being destroyed mainly by human activities at an alarming rates.
Impacts of biodiversity loss :
The biodiversity loss results in ecological and environmental deterioration. According to International Rice Research Institute, most of the high yielding varieties released so far are sensitive to major pests with a crop loss of 30-100% in India. The cultivation of high yielding crop varieties brought about a marked change in the status of pathogenic microorganisms, insects pests, environment and ecology and likely in the health of human beings. For instance, the rice variety IR-8 was released in 1966 by the International Rice Research Institute. After two years, the variety was hit by bacterial blight disease. After two more years, the variety was affected by viral disease (tungro). Therefore, an improved variety IR-36 was developed in 1977 to be resistant to 8 major diseases and pests. But this variety became victimized by two new viruses which caused the ragged stunt and wilted stunt. Therefore, it is very clear that the monocropping with a narrow genetic base is highly prone to the pathological and pest problems which ultimately spoil the ecology and environment.It is also said that the modern agricultural practices involving indiscriminate use of chemicals pollute the environment and predispose the man to many diseases. The biodiversity through agroforestry is the only solution to ensure the ecological stability and environmental security of the agricultural ecosystem.
Conservation of Indian Biodiversity:
Indian has proposed a number of policies, programmes and projects which help to protect and conserve the country s biological diversity.
Basic requirement for developing strategies for biodiversity conservation is to make surveys and inventorisation of biological resources. Thanks to Botanical survey of India (established in 1916) for their extensive surveys of the floral and faunal resources in the country and preparing their inventories. The Forest Survey of India (established in 1981) surveys the forest and tree cover of this country using satellite imagery, aerial photography and ground truth verifications. The surveys have to be further intensified to collect more information on distribution of species/population/communities and their economic potentials.
The environmental protection is one of the duties of Indian citizens and is enshrined in the constitution of India. Several policy and legal frame work have been developed to protect the biological diversity. They are the Forest Act, 1927, the Forest(Conservation) Act, 1980, The Wildlife (protection) Act, 1972 and the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. These legal framework are at the national level, are also supported by State statutes and laws to protect the biodiversity resources. The Action Plans which address the issues of biological diversity are Wildlife Action Plan (1983). The Ministry of Environment and Forests mandated impact assessment of all developmental projects and their link to protection of habitats and ecosystems.
India has been successful in-situ conservation of biodiversity. Approximately 4.2% of the total area of country has been earmarked for extensive in-situ conservation of habitats and ecosystems. Eight Biosphere Reserves have been designated for their conservation. A protected area network of 80 national parks and 441 wild life sanctuaries has been created. The results of this network have been significant in restoring populations of tigers, lions, rhinoceros, crocodiles, elephants,etc.A programme entitled ecodevelopment for in-situ conservation of biological diversity involving local communities, dwelling along with the protected areas, has recently been initiated. The economic needs of the local communities are taken care of under this programme through provision of alternative sources of income and a steady availability of forest and related produce.
Efforts have been made on ex-situ conservation. There are 33 botanic gardens and 33 University botanic gardens and 275 zoos, deer parks, aquaria etc. Central Zoo Authority manages the Zoos of the country. Ex-situ conservation in high tech gene banks is the dominant response to conservation of biodiversity. It is an efficient means of conservation.
Specific programmes for conservation of wetland, mangroves, and coral reefs systems are also being implemented. National and sub-national level committees oversee and guide these programmes to ensure strong policy and strategic support. Under the world heritage convention, five natural sites have been declared as world heritage sites . Under the Ramsar Convention (1981), 6 internationally significant wetland of India have been declared as Ramsar Sites . High biodiversity marine zones such as the Gulf of Manner and Wandoor (Andaman) have been declared as marine national parks, while the Mavan coast (Maharastra) and the Gulf of Kachchh (Gujarat) have been declared marine sanctuaries. Sanctuaries have also been established to preserve the rich native diversity of Rhododendrons and orchids in Sikkim and for wild citrus and Musa in Meghalaya.
After the signing and ratification of the Convention on Biological Diversity by India on 18.2.1994, several steps have been initiated to bring the legislative, administrative and policy framework regarding biological diversity in accordance with the articles of convention.
Many research projects have been undertaken under the guidance of Ministry of Environment and forests to study various aspects of biological diversity, by both governmental as well as non-governmental institution, universities and scientific institutions. Many training and awareness programmes on conservation aspects of biodiversity have been conducted through governmental as well as non-governmental institutions and organisations.
Suggestions for biodiversity conservation:
1. India has been successful in conserving the biodiversity through a network of protected areas such as Biosphere Reserves, Marine Reserves, Sanctuaries, Wetlands, Coral Reefs and Gene Conservation Centres and other natural habitats. In these noble ventures, much more involvement of local people to level of making plan and policies, needs to be attempted.Such community based, biodiversity programme needs to be given top priority. It is necessary to have a survey of the biological resources at microlevel from each and every mater of land mass of our country which could be possible with the participation of local people and academic community. The in-situ conservation should be done by working with the local youth communities. The indigenous knowledge of the rural community on biodiversity resource management, has to be documented by the academic community by interacting more with the aged ruralfolk. The local community are to be made to plan for the conservation of biodiversity of their locality. Necessary financial support has to be made through Panchayatraj to implement the plan by the people for the people.
2. There is a need to document area-wise plants of medicinal and other economic values and their propagation methods. The seeds can be distributed to the ruralfolk and the necessary training and awareness programmes can be given to them. Similar attempt has to be made at larger scale for breeding the livestock animals. This would help in development of rural economy and biodiversity as well.
3. The agroforestry needs to be encouraged to ensure food security with environmental security in the agricultural ecosystem. There is an urgent need to increase crop production by 3% a year in the present context of fast disappearances of agriculture lands for urbanization and environmental degradation, as influenced by population pressures.
4. Reclamation of soil spoiled by various developmental activities have to be carried out immediately. Also the barren wastelands have to be utilized for development of biodiversity. More research on these aspects are necessary.
5. Unsustainable developmental activities including the monocultures are to be banned based on the cost-benefit ratio for a long-run, instead of looking at a short-term economic gain.
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