Ecology - Geography Notes | EduRev

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India has a rich heritage of biological diversity (rich and diverse strains of flora and fauna)– immense range of ecosystems, species (some 1.3 lakh recorded) and genetic forms (50,000 varieties of rice alone)– by virtue of its tropical features. 

  • India's biogeographical composition is unique as it combines living forms from three major biogeographical realms, namely, the Indo-Malayan, the Agro-Tropical and the Eurasian.
  • It is estimated that our country possesses about 45,000 plant species, representing the widest range for any country of the world of its size, of which nearly 5,000 species are exclusive to India, and about 75,000 animal species.

Flora and fauna

  • Overall 8 per cent of world species are found in India. It is estimated that India is tenth among the plant rich countries of the world, eleventh in terms of number of endemic species of higher vertebrates and sixth among the centres of diversity and origin of agri-biodiversity. The total number of living species identified in India so far is 200,000.
  • India is recognized as one of the 12 mega-diversity centres in the world and it also has two of the 18 identified biodiversity hot-spots of the world, namely the northeast region and the Western Ghats.
  • Among the mammals, India is home to the elephant, which is typical of hot wet equatorial forests and is found in the jungles of Assam and those of Kerala and Karnataka where it rains heavily and the forests are very dense. On the other hand, camels and wild asses belong to extremely hot and arid deserts. While the camels are common to the Thar Desert, the wild assess unique to India are confined to the arid areas of the Rann of Kutch. 
  • The one-horned rhinoceros are confined to swampy and marshy lands of Assam and north-west Bengal. 
  • Other group of animals unique to India consists of the Indian bison, the Indian bison, the Indian buffalo and the nilgai. The chousingha (four horned antelope), blackbuck (Indian antelope), gazel and various species of deer including Kashmir stag, swamp deer, spotted deer, musk deer and mouse deer have home in India.
  • The Indian lion distinguishes itself as the only species found anywhere in the world– barring the Afriforests of Saurashtra in Gujarat. The famous Bengal tiger has its natural habitat in the Sundarbans' tidal animals belonging to the cat family are leopards, clouded leopards and snow leopards. The latter are confined to upper reaches of the Himalayas.
  • The Himalayan ranges are the home to several interesting animals including the wild sheep, mountain goats, the ibex, the shrew and the tapir. The lesser panda and the snow leopard are confined only to the upper reaches.
  • India has several species of monkeys– the langur being the most common. The lion-tailed macaques have hair around the face which appears like a halo.Birdlife in India is both rich and colourful. 
  • If the tiger is the national animal, the peacock is our national bird. Pheasants, geese, ducks, mynahs, parakeets, pigeons, cranes, hornbills and sunbirds belong to the forests and wetlands.

Threat of Biological Diversity

  • Besides natural extinction of species the disappearance of many species in recent past has largely been due to man's destructive activities. As the forests are becoming bare, many of the plants and animal species are fast becoming to the verge of extinction
  • These species and varieties provide a challenge to geneticists, animal behaviourists, botanists, zoologists, economists, and many others who have a lot to learn about them and from them. 
  • About 1,143 animals comprising 71 species of mammals, 88 species of birds and 5 species of reptiles are identified as rare and endangered wild animals. Many plant species, which have forests as their sustaining source are also disappearing rapidly.
  • The ecological balance of flora, fauna and forests is being drastically disturbed by the rapid increase in the human population. That requires farmland and puts pressure on land and forests. Added to this are overgrazing by cattle, illicit poaching and trapping and the growing phenomena of urbanization and industrialization that destroy natural habitats. 
  • As the pressure of population growth is difficult to resist, what we need to recognize, however, is that this pressure is a transient phenomenon, whereas losing our biodiversity is permanent one. 
  • There is no way to recover lost biodivesity. Rapid economic growth can create many non-agricultural jobs and eventually relieves this pressure. Thus, even for the sake of environment, we need strong and rapid economic growth.

Conservation Efforts

  • In order to protect and conserve the great biological diversity of our country, special biosphere reserves have been created. Special efforts are being made to preserve endangered species of wildlife – birds and animals. 
  • Periodic censuses are undertaken to find out the latest position and trends in this regard. Project tiger has been a great success. Now there are 16 tiger reserves in various parts of the country. 
  • Likewise, a rhino project is being implemented in Assam. The Great Indian bastards of Rajasthan and Malwa is yet another endangered species. Even the numbers of the lion had been dwindling for a long.
  • India has also created a vast protected area network comprising 441 wildlife sanctuaries and 80 national parks covering 4.5 percent of the total geographical area of the country, which is proposed to be increased to 5.1 percent for better protecting India's flora and fauna.
  • Besides its potential for preserving the bio-diversity, these parks and reserves also have peoples' willingness to pay (WTP) for the benefits derived. A study conducted by IGIDR at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park shows that though constrained by income, people are willing to pay for the benefits derived from the park.
  • In addition to 8 biosphere reserves, 21 wetlands, 15 mangroves and four coral reefs have been identified for intensive conservation. To complement these in-situ efforts ex-situ conservation is being done through botanical gardens, zoos and other areas of wildlife preservation.

Wildlife Preservation Acts

  • In 1983 Government adopted the National Wildlife Action Plan that provides the framework of strategy as well as programme for conservation of wildlife. 
  • The Wildlife (protection) Act, 1972, adopted by all states except Jammu and Kashmir (which has its own act) governs wildlife conservation and protection of endangered species. Under the Act trade in rare and endangered species is prohibited. Under the convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora  and Fauna, of which India is also a signatory, export or import of endangered species and their products is subject to strict control. Commercial exploitation of such species is prohibited.
  • The central government provides financial assistance to states for activities related to wildlife preservation. Amendment has been made in the Wildlife (protection) Act, 1972, to make it more effective. Endangered species of plants and animals have been brought under the purview of the Act. To look after the management of zoological parks a Central Zoo Authority has notified rules for recognition of the standards for upkeep, maintenance and veterinary care of animals. 
  • The Animal Welfare Board of India, established in 1962 under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal Act, 1960 is working for the cause of Animal Welfare in the country. Research in wildlife are carried out by the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun and the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History, Coimbatore.

Biosphere Reserves
Biosphere reserves are multipurpose protected areas to preserve the genetic diversity in representative ecosystems. 

The objectives of biosphere reserves are:

(i) To conserve diversity and integrity of plants, animals and micro-organisms.

(ii) To promote research on ecological conservation and other environmental aspects and 

(iii) To provide facilities for education, awareness and training. 

Biosphere reserves in India

Fourteen potential sites were identified for setting up biosphere reserves in the country of which eight have been established viz, Nilgiri, Nanda Devi, Nokrek, Great Nicobar, Gulf of Manar, Manas, Sunderbans and Similipal. Others proposed to be set up are Namadpha, Kanha, Uttarakhand, Thar desert, Kaziranga and the little Rann of Kutch. Comprehensive guidelines have been prepared which emphasize on formulation of eco-development and demonstration projects,  development of database, conservation plans of key species, establishment of research stations and implementation of social welfare activites. NGOs will be involved in the biosphere reserve programme for creation of public awareness. Latest technologies like remote sensing in studying the reserves will be used.

Wetlands its usefulness and conservation
Wetlands, one of the most useful resource system, are areas which are characterised by presence of water and a water-saturated soil – either permanently or for a part of the year. 

Wetlands of India

According to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, of which India is a signatory, wetlands are areas of marshes, fens, peatland or water, natural or artificial, permanent or temporary with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or saline including areas of marined water, the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres.

Importance of Wetlands
Wetlands are useful in a number of ways:
(i) They are habitat of endangered and rare species of birds, animals, plants and insects.
(ii) They sustain migratory birds and waters.
(iii) As an ecosystem they are useful for nutrient recovery and cycling, releasing excess nitrogen, deactivating phosphates, removing toxins, chemicals and heavy metals through absorption by plants and also in the treatment of wastewater.
(iv) Retention of sediments by wetlands which reduces siltation of rivers.
(v) Wetlands help in mitigating floods, recharging aquifers and reducing surface run-off and consequent erosion.

Wetland(iv) Retention of sediment by wetlands which reduces siltation of rivers.
(v) Wetlands help in mitigating floods, recharging aquifers and reducing surface run-off and consequent erosion.
(vi) Mangrove wetlands act as buffer against devastating storms.
(vii) Wetlands influence the microclimate of the locality in addition to checking of underground saltwater intrusion on an adjacent brackish water environment through interface pressure.

Distribution of Wetlands
India has a wealth of wetland ecosystems primarily because of variability in climate conditions and changing topography. They are distributed in different geographical regions ranging from the cold arid zone of Ladakh to wet humid climate of Imphal; warm arid zone of Rajasthan to tropical monsoonic central India and wet and humid zone of southern peninsula. Most of the wetlands are directly or indirectly linked with major river systems such as Ganga, Brahmaputra, Narmada, Cauvery, Tapti, Godavari etc.

Conservation of Wetlands
To ensure conservation of wetlands which are important for ecological processes as well as for their rich flora and fauna, an International Convention was held in Ramsar (Iran) in 1971, to provide a framework for international cooperation for the conservation of wetland habitats.
In India National Wetlands Management Committee, which advises the government on policies and measures for conservation and management of the wetlands, has identified 21 wetlands for priority action. These are: Kolleru (AP), Wullar (J&K), Chilka (Orissa), Loktak (Manipur), Bhuj (MP), Sambhar and Pichola (Rajasthan), Ashtamudi and Sasthamotta (Kerala), Harike and Kanjli (Punjab), Kabar (Bihar), Nalsarovar (Gujarat) and Sukhna (Chandigarh). Nodal research/academic institutions have been identified for each of the selected wetlands.

The action plan for wetlands development include: 
(i) Survey and Mapping
(ii) Soil conservation measures

(iii) Weed control
(iv) Control of silt load
(v) Pollution monitoring
(vi) Fisheries development
(vii) Notification as protected area and
(viii) Environment education and awareness for wetland conservation.

Mangroves are very specialised coastal ecosystems of tropical and subtropical tidal regions of the world bordering the sheltered sea coasts and estuaries. Man groves vegetation is dominated by salt-tolerant intertidal halophytic sea plants of diverse structure. 

  • They help in the production of detritus and recycling of nutrients thereby enhancing the fertility of the coastal waters to support both pelagic and benthic population of the sea. 
  • They prevent soil erosion and act as buffer for the mainland and protect it from the storms. 
  • They are also the spawning and nursery grounds for a multitude of marine organisms. 
  • Mangroves occur all along the Indian coastline in the sheltered estuary, tidal creeks, backwaters, salt marshes and mudflats covering a total area of 6,740 sq. km, which is about seven per cent of the world's total mangrove area.

Mangrove ecosystem

  • Mangroves in India have been subject to immense biotic pressure and ruthless exploitation. 
  • Schemes for their conservation and management have been initiated by the Ministry of Environment and Forests on the advise of National Committee on Wetlands, Mangroves and Coral reefs. Based on its recommendation 15 mangrove areas have been identified for intensive conservation and management purposes. 
  • These are Northern Andaman and Nicobar islands, Sunderbans (West Bengal), Bhitarknika (Orissa), Coringa, Godavari Delta and Krishna Estuary (AP), Mahandi Delta (Orissa), Pichavaram and Point Calimar (TN), Goa, Gulf of Kutch (Gujarat), Coondapur (Karnataka), Achra/Ratnagiri (Maharashtra) and Vembanad (Kerala).

Estuaries, an integral part of the coastal environment, are the outfall regions of the river, making the transitional zone between the fluvial and marine environs. According to Pitchard, An estuary is a semienclosed coastal body of water which has a free connection with the open sea and within which seawater is measurably diluted with freshwater derived from land drainage'. Besides salinity, other parameters that influence the characteristics of an estuary are turbidity, tides, river flow and land drainage.

EstuariesEstuaries are an important source of natural resources for man and are used for commercial, industrial and recreational purposes. They are the nursery ground for dams and oysters and a variety of shrimps and fin fishes. India has 113 major and minor rivers and their combined length is 45,000 km. The considerable ecological imbalance has been caused in the estuary ecosystem due to human interference that has finally led to the disappearance of their flora and fauna. Release of untreated municipal wastewater and industrial effluents into these water bodies leads to serious water pollution including heavy metal pollution, which gets biomagnified and reaches man through food-chain. Overfishing and artificial introduction of species also lead to the imbalance of the estuarine ecosystem.

Lagoons are special type of ecosystems comprising the coastal and open ocean waters having a channel or a series of channels, through which the water is exchanged with the adjacent water body. Lagoons may be of saltish or brackish water. Lagoons are of two types 

(i) Coastal lagoon which is a shallow coastal water body separated from the ocean by a barrier, connected atleast intermittently to the ocean by one or more restricted inlets, and usually oriented shore parallel (Phelger's definition), and (ii) Atoll lagoon is a lake-like stretch of water, enclosed in a coral atoll or coral reef, in the shape of a ring or of a horseshoe.

Blue lagoon in LakshadweepIn India, the coastal lagoons are misused by the people as dumping sites for industrial and domestic waste. Human interference in the lagoons for longer periods is due to the slow flushing rate and shallowness of lagoons. The impact of disturbances like sedimentation, pollution, eutrophication, erosion and overfishing in the lagoons are difficult to assess. Dredging channels to accommodate the navigating vessels into the lagoons generate huge quantitative and qualitative changes in the lagoonal flora and fauna. The various industries which are situated near the coastal lagoons release cold and waste-water into the lagoons which are changing the animal associations in the lagoon systems.

Forest Policy and law
Indian Forest Policy that dates back to 1894 underwent revision in 1952 and again in 1988. The revised forest policy of 1988 emphasises protection, conservation and development of forests. Its objectives are : 

(i) Maintenance of environmental stability and ecological balance. 

(ii) Conservation of natural heritage. 

(iii) Check on soil erosion and denudation in catchment area. 

(iv) Check on extension of sand dunes in desert areas of Rajasthan and along coastal tracts.

(v) Substantial increase in forest/tree cover through massive afforestation and social forestry programs. 

(vi) Meeting requirements of fuelwood, fodder, minor forest produce and small timber of rural and tribal population. 

(vii) Increase in productivity of forest to meet the national needs. 

(viii) Encouragement of efficient utilisation of forest produce and optimum substitution of wood and 

(ix) Steps to create massive people's movement with involvement of women to achieve the objectives and minimise pressure on existing forests.
The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 enacted to check indiscriminate deforestation, diversion of forest lands for non-forestry purpose was amended in 1988 to make it more stringent by prescribing punishment for violations.

Conservation of Forests

  • A very low per capita forest area with an ever increasing pressure of population is resulting into indiscriminate felling of trees for clearing land for cultivation and to meet the timber and fuel requirements.
  • Overgrazing, encroachment of forests and perhaps a decrease in rainfall have led to a drastic decline in the forest area during the recent times. The increasing destruction and degradation of forest particularly in hilly regions is contributing to heavy soil erosion, erratic rainfall and recurring to heavy soil erosion, erratic rainfall and recurring floods. It is also causing acute shortage of firewood and timber and loss of productivity due to eroded and degraded lands.
  • A wide range of flora and fauna are fast disappearing as their natural habitats are getting destroyed. Though there is an increasing trend in areas and quality of forest, there is a need for massive reforestation programmes, control over hacking and grazing and provision of cheap fuel through alternative technologies such as solar power or bio-gas plants. 
  • Some of the important measures being taken for conservation of forests include conservation of biological diversity in terms of fauna and flora; afforestation and development of wastelands; reforestation and replantation in existing forests; restriction on grazing; encouragement for wood substitutes and supply of other kinds of fuel; elimination of forest contractors; discouragement of monoculture practice; special emphasis on forestry research and creating of a massive people's movement for achieving these objectives.

Social Forestry
The National Forest Policy of 1952 aimed at increasing forest cover in the country to 33% of the total land area. Far from expanding, the area under forest has declined owing to expanding industrialisation, urbanisation, growth of population and illegal cutting of trees. The large scale deforestation apart from other evils have resulted in acute scarcity in rural areas. The lack of fuelwood is supplemented by use of cowdung and residues which means loss of manure to the soil. In order to avoid deforestation and its adverse effects the government introduced a concept, 'Social Forestry', the objectives of which were spelt out by the National Commission on Agriculture (1976) as :
(i) To increase green cover.
(ii) To produce and supply fuelwood, fodder, small timber and minor forest produce to rural section.
(iii) To produce raw materials for industries.
(iv) And to create employment in rural areas through afforestation.

There are three main components of social forestry:
(i) Farm forestry: Farmers are encouraged to plant trees on their own farms with free or subsidised seedlings supplied by the forest.
(ii) Rural (or Community) forestry: Trees are planted by the communities themselves on community lands to be shared equally by the villagers. This is the self-financing component of the social forestry project.
(iii) Urban (or Public) forestry: The forest department undertakes the planting of fast-growing trees along roadsides canal, tanks and other such public lands for the needs of the community.
In a way, social forestry combines idle land, labour and water resources for optimum production of firewood, fodder, food, manure, and small constructional timber. It essentially involves monolithic integration of forestry, agriculture and animal husbandry.
A massive social forestry programme was launched in 1980-81 in 101 districts of the country which were deficient in fuelwood. This programme included 'Rural fuelwood plantation' and 'A tree for every child'. It is a centrally sponsored programme with technical assistance from Canada and Sweden. The World Bank provided financial support for the programme.

Analysis of Programme
(i) Only farm forestry, one component of social forestry programme, has been successfully implemented.
(ii) The programme has completely neglected the primary objective of ensuring for all rural households and the landless in rural areas ready access to fuelwood and fodder for domestic consumption and thereby

(a) reduce the time women and children spend daily in collecting fuelwood;

(b) prevent the use of animal dung as fuel. Under the programme trees are planted more as a commercial investment and not to fulfil basic survival needs of fuels and fodder of the rural folk. In fact the programme has worsened the energy crisis of landless labourers and intensified fodder problem by encouraging the plantation of hybrid eucalyptus which even animals do not touch.
(iii) It has not made any real effort to involve the landless and the tribals in afforestation.
(iv) It has done little for ecological restoration, for enhancing soil fertility and for water conservation.
(v) No serious efforts have been made to create proper awareness among people.

Wasteland Development

  • Soil is the non-renewable natural resource which supports practically all terrestrial plant life and consequently human life.
  • About 130 million hectares of land or nearly 45 percent of total geographical area of the country is wasteland – it is degraded and lacks good tree cover. Even after excluding 35 mha notified as forest degraded area, nearly 95 mha land is non-forest degraded area.
  • The maximum wastelands are in Madhya Pradesh. These areas are affected by soil erosion through ravine and gully, shifting cultivation, cultivated wastelands, sandy areas, deserts and water logging.
  • Soil erosion by rain and river that takes place in hilly areas causes landslides and floods, while cutting trees for firewood, agricultural implements, and timber, grazing by a large number of livestock over and above the carrying capacity of grassland, traditional agricultural practices, construction of roads, indiscriminate (limestone etc.) quarrying, and other activities, have all led to the opening of hill-faces to heavy soil-erosion.
  • In the arid west (Rajasthan desert), wind erosion causes expansion of desert, dust storms, whirlwinds, and destruction of crops, while moving sand covers the land and makes it sterile. 
  • In the plains one notices stream bank erosion due to floods and eutrophication due to agricultural run-off.
  • The magnitude of wastelands in both forest area and non-forest area is significant. Severe soil degradation is found mostly on the common property resources (CPR). 
  • The main cause of degradation of common property resources has been use (grazing, cutting trees etc.) by villagers in excess of its regeneration capacity. This is mainly due to the reason as CPR belongs to everyone, each feels that if he/she does not use  it someone else will.
  • Therefore, it is necessary to intensify the efforts to curb desertification and soil erosion, to retain and increase the productivity of agricultural land and to control the expansion of the desert areas and landslides.

Measures for Controlling Soil Degradation:
(i) Regeneration of wastelands, particularly CPR of communities.

(ii) Sharing of the costs and the benefits from regeneration of land and availability  of finance, should be just and well defined. 
(iii) Soil conservation technologies to be adopted. The Indian government has established a National Wastelands Development Board in May 1985.

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