Biodiversity

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Biodiversity
Since the time man became different from other animals inhabiting the Earth, he has been making a lot of progress using all that he can. For ages, he treated nature as a vast storehouse of resources without paying any heed to the fact that his unscrupulous use of natural resources might pose a danger to all other species coexisting with him. He considered himself the only creature on this planet which was entitled to all the riches. Ignorant of the evil consequences of his ever- increasing and never-quenchable thirst for pleasure, he looked down upon every other species and treated himself as a master. He destroyed habitats of innumerable species to make room for avenues that provided him convenience and pleasure. The loss of habitats caused the large-scale extinction of many organisms. This harm to the lives of organisms affected human health adversely and today, the whole world has started taking immense interest in biodiversity. Taking into consideration the importance of biodiversity, the United Nations designated the year 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity. The term “Biological Diversity” was coined by the wildlife scientist and conservationist, Raymond F. Dasmann, in 1968. Through a book, he advocated conservation. The term gained currency within a short span of time and by the 1980s, it came into common usage in science and environmental policy. The term’s contracted form “biodiversity” is said to have been most likely coined by W.G. Rosen in 1985 while planning the 1986 National Forum on Biological Diversity organised by the National Research Council (NRC). It first appeared in a publication in 1988 when entomologist E.O. Wilson used it as the tide of the proceedings of that forum. The 1992 United Nations Earth Summit defined biological diversity as “the variability among living organisms, from all sources, including inter alia, terrestrial, marine, and other aquatic ecosystems, and ecological complexes of which they are the part : this includes diversity within species, between species, and of ecosystems.
As far as biodiversity is concerned, it is not evenly distributed. Flora and fauna diversity depends on climate, altitude, soil and the presence of other species. In 2006, many species were formally classified as rare, endangered or threatened.
Scientists have expressed the view that millions of more species are at risk which has not been formally recognised. Even though terrestrial biodiversity declines from the equator to the poles, this cannot be verified in the case of aquatic ecosystems, especially in marine ecosystems. Generally, terrestrial biodiversity is up to 25 times greater than ocean biodiversity. A biodiversity hotspot is a region with a high level of endemic species. Hotspot was a term
coined by Dr Norman Myers. There are many hotspots in the world most of which are located in the tropics and are mainly forests.
Brazil’s Atlantic Forestisconsideredone major hotspot which is home to 20,000 plant species, 1,350 vertebrates and millions of insects, about half of which are not found anywhere else in the world. The island of Madagascar, particularly the unique Madagascar dry deciduous forests and lowland rain-forests, possesses a high ratio of endemism. Indonesia’s 17,000 islands cover 7,35,355 square miles. They contain lOpercentof the world’s flowering plants, 12 percent of mammals and 17 percent of reptiles, amphibians and birds. Biodiversity is the result of 3.5 billion years of evolution. Though scientists have not been able to ascertain the exact period of origin of species, but they think it to have occurred a few million years after the formation of the Earth. Nevertheless, according to scientists, archaea, bacteria, protozoans and similar single-celled organisms had started inhabiting this Earth approximately 600 million years ago. The history of biodiversity during the Phanerozoic (the last 540 million years) starts with rapid growth during the Cambrian explosion. This period is thought to be the time during which nearly every phylum of multicellular organisms first appeared. Over the next 400 million years or so, global diversity was marked by periodic, massive losses called mass extinction. A significant loss occurred when rainforests collapsed in the carboniferous. The worst was the Permo- triassic extinction that took place around 251 million years ago. It took vertebrates 30 million years to recover from this event. As per fossil records, the last few million years witnessed the greatest biodiversity in history.
Estimates of the present global macroscopic species diversity vary from 2 million to 100 million, best of which is estimated somewhere near 13-14 million, the vast majority comprising arthropods.
The fact is, however, this that biodiversity is under threat across the globe. India also does not present any
different picture and its considerable biodiversity is under threat. Biodiversity here has been mainly measured by
the numbers of plants and vertebrates and their presence is greatest in the Western Ghats and northeast.
Both the areas are also included in the world’s list of hotspots of biodiversity i.e. small geographic areas with high
species diversity. Of the two areas, the Western Ghats have more endemic species which are found nowhere else,
Threats to species are mainly due to decline in the areas of their habitats, fragmentation of habitats and decline in
habitat quality. Hunting has also been found to be a cause of extinction, especially in the case of some mammals.
Fragmentation also raises the extinction risk, because isolated subpopulations can become extinct one by one due
to not being repopulated. Stochastic declines in small subpopulations make it more likely that they will become
extinct and this is further aggravated by the reduction of genetic variability in subpopulations. Species with
already restricted ranges are particularly vulnerable to these threats. For the terrestrial species, the declines in
habitat quality and quantity arise from the conversion of forests and grasslands into agricultural land, of natural
forests to monoculture plantations and from grazing and woodcutting pressures. In some areas, invasion by
exotic species of plants also results in habitat degradation. For example, Peruvian thorny tree Prosopis julijlora in
the dry parts of northern India have replaced the native species, Acacia milotica(Babool) and South American
flowering bush lantana Camara has spread in the sub-Himalayan belt. For aquatic and semiaquatic
species, the declines in habitat quality are due to diversion of ground and surface water, resulting in drying up of
streams and other water bodies, from siltation, and pollution from pesticides and other chemicals. Freshwater
fishes are also threatened by the introduction of exotic species which are either predator or competitors.
We should do our best to preserve the biodiversity in the country because it is valuable on account of many factors. It has great economic value. Economic value comprises pharmaceutical uses also. Ecosystem value is another important aspect of biodiversity. Loss of biodiversity may cause large unpredictable changes in an ecosystem, thereby adversely affecting agriculture and human health. Loss of biodiversity also indirectly affects tourism. Some areas in India, like Kerala or Tamil Nadu, attract people due to their richness with regard to biodiversity also. Last but not least, there is existence value of biodiversity. Conservation of biodiversity is a major area of concern. Joint Forest Management and Eco-development schemes were initiated in the 1980s and 1990s. Local communities exercise influence over the exploitation of the natural assets and they have the power to degrade them or prevent others from degrading them if they are motivated to do so. The best way of preserving the biodiversity is, undoubtedly, to assign the full rights to revenue flows from non­extractive uses such as tourism to the local communities, together with a democratic and transparent institution that allows them to resolve internal common pool problems. In addition, rights to extractive uses, at least with some restriction, would not degrade the resource. Local communities, if made to participate thus in preservation, feel some sense of confidence and this will act as an incentive both to maintain the resource and to exclude the outside appropriators. In several cases, the local communities may be motivated and taken into confidence, if they are simply allowed to use their respective areas for grazing, firewood collection, timber, and collection of other forest produce in and around existing “Protected Areas” (Wildlife Sanctuaries and National Parks).
Many debates over the Tribal Rights Bill have suggested that neither conservationists nor tribal rights activists have seriously considered a solution in regard to the transfer of tourist revenues to local communities. Many experts have, however, suggested that there should have been much more meaningful local involvement in conservation management. Incentive payments, rather than coercive regulation, would probably be the much better option for conservation efforts. Some experts have also opined that a misconception related to extractive human use is incompatible with biodiversity conservation. In some cases, as in the famous bird refuge at Keoladeo Ghana, biodiversity depends on certain human uses such as grazing. The ban on grazing had an adverse impact because it resulted in water bird habitat being choked by unwanted vegetation. The pattern of dispossession and alienation of forest communities and failed state regulation is very much evident in northeastern States in India. They are demographically different from the rest of the country because Scheduled Tribes constitute a majority of the population. As far as statistics are concerned, there are no systematic comparisons of the performance of the northeastern States in forest conservation with the rest of the country. Statistics show that hunting has reduced wildlife populations in these areas considerably. There should be a serious attempt to apply the provisions ‘bf the Wildlife Protection Act restricting hunting in these areas.
While a discussion is on with regard to conservation of natural resources, mention must be made of the Government of India’s initiatives. For example, the monitorable targets for the Twelfth Plan include greening 5 million ha under Green India Mission including 1.5 million ha of degraded lands, afforestation and eco- restoration of 0.9 million ha of ecologically sensitive areas; Technology-based monitoring of forest cover, biodiversity and growing stock including change- monitoring on periodical basis through dedicated satellite by 2017 and establishment of open web-basedNational Forestry and Environmental Information system for research and public accessibility by 2015; Engagement of Village Green Guards/Community Foresters for every Joint Forest Management (JFM) village by 2016; Establishing forestry seed bank in forest circles and Model Nursery in every district with information on public portal by 2014. Besides, 20 percent of veterinary professionals in the country will be trained in treating wildlife; Integrated Ecotourism District Plans covering 10 percent of all potential Protected Areas (PAs) by 2017; Promoting participation of private sector, civil societies, NGOs and philanthropists in animal welfare. The Government will also do its best to restore 0.1 million ha of wetlands/inland lakes/water bodies by 2017. Mapping and preparation of biodiversity management plans for deserts (both cold and arid), coastal areas, important coral zones, wetlands, mangroves and so on are to be completed by 2017 according to the Twelfth Five- Year Plan document.
Taking conservation issue seriously is a good step indeed. According to recent media reports, some States have adopted science-based conservation methods to increase the dwindling number of tigers which have adopted transparent constructive ‘public-private partnership’ model and have forged ties with research organisations. Tamil Nadu is one of the States which have a keen focus on conservation, and Karnataka has presented a very good example of such a public-private partnership. The population estimate for 2010 was 1,706 tigers compared with 1,411 in 2006. The counting exercise should be carried out annually, not every four years. The foundation for the aforementioned exercise is being contemplated by the Wildlife Institute of India and the National Tiger Conservation Authority along with the leading conservationists. They are going to decide the methodology for future monitoring and assessment of tiger population. We should look forward to the same with regard to other species also. Biodiversity is very essential for the existence of this planet itself and it should be taken seriously by all not only in India but also across the globe.

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