Bio-diversity studies need upgradation

Biodiversity conservation is not a destination but a journey. While the rationale for this long and enduring journey is clear, often the avenues are not, due to our inadequate knowledge of the interrelationships and interaction of different elements of biodiversity with the environment, their ecological requirements and prescriptions of sustainable use.

Biodiversity conservation is best achieved through a combination of protection, preservation and intelligent use. In India, we are well placed on the global biodiversity richness map, representing three of the biodiversity ‘hotspots’ by Conservation International – the Western Ghats and Sri Lanka, the Himalayas and the Indo Burma.

We have been able to provide the necessary protection to those which need our intervention with some degree of success braving threats like habitat destruction and poaching.

This has been achieved through a network of protected areas – national parks, sanctuaries and reserve forests, sacred groves and community managed forests. With a set of stringent legislations including the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, and National Wetland Rules, 2010, we have a National Biodiversity Authority to safeguard the nation’s biological assets.

The three-tier Authority that empowers our villages, states and Centre has no parallel in the world. The five national bureaus for plant, animal, tree, fish and agriculturally important micro-organisms have well established facilities for conservation of the aforementioned genetic resources. In the global arena, we are signatories to the international conventions on biodiversity, wetlands of global significance, desertification and the laws of the seas.

With a mixed bag of stories, we need to introspect biodiversity conservation, our success and failures and focus on the impediments we face. In addition to the attention on charismatic species, we need a deeper understanding of our ecosystems also teeming with a diversity of smaller groups of flora and fauna. The immense ecosystem services they provide – the regulatory, provisioning and the cultural – are presently least understood and general awareness is limited.

Scientific knowledge on these is now inimical for conservation management. The genetic diversity of our species needs assessment, for it’s the diversity in genes which helps biological species to cope and adapt to natural and anthropogenic stresses. They contribute to the resilience in functioning of ecosystems.

Biological diversity studies need an upgradation from species inventory to dynamics of their population, the role they play in ecosystems, their present distributional ranges, projections in event of threats like climate change and habitat loss.

Conservation assessment
An information base collating ongoing research country wide has to be created so that meaningful contributions could be made to conservation assessment processes like Red listing and Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) delineation by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the 2020 Global Biodiversity  targets, and to the management and working plans for forests of India.

The very fabric of creating Biodiversity Registers under the Biodiversity Rules, 2006 has been an opportunity to monitor its trends with country’s citizens needs encouragement and strengthening.

Biodiversity conservation is intricately linked to its sustainable use. Many plant species for which cultivation protocols do not exist, continue to be exploited in the wild in absence of spe-cies specific standards for their sustainable harvest. Measures like complete banning or rotational harvesting of non timber forest products have been futile, illegal collections are rampant and local communities in vicinity of forests are highly dependent on these for their livelihood.

New approaches initiated like forest certification or introduction of standards by organisations like the Fairchild, need piloting. Efforts are on to exe-mplify certification of forest management units through principles, criteria and indicators of certifying agencies like the Forest Stewardship Council.  Promotion of sustainable fisheries through Marine Stewardship Council has been recently initiated in lake Ashtamudi, a Ramsar site, in Kerala.

Efforts of this kind need an upscaling country wide. Development and implementation of species specific standards will require intensive research on the ecological needs of the species, their regeneration, ability to withstand stress and the ecosystem services they provide. Outcomes of sound empirical studies can only contribute to good practices and modelling sustainable harvesting.

(The writer is Associate Professor, Department of Natural Resources, TERI University)

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