Special Content

Issue no 8, 21-27 May 2022

International Day for Biodiversity 2022

Biological diversity is often understood in terms of the wide variety of plants, animals and microorganisms. However, it also includes genetic differences within each species - for example, between varieties of crops and breeds of livestock - and the variety of ecosystems (lakes, forest, deserts, agricultural landscapes) that host multiple kind of interactions among their members (humans, plants, animals). Biological diversity resources are the pillars upon which we build civilizations. Fish provide 20 per cent of animal protein to about 3 billion people. Over 80 per cent of the human diet is provided by plants. As many as 80 per cent of people living in rural areas in developing countries rely on traditional plant-based medicines for basic healthcare. However, loss of biodiversity threatens all, including our health. It has been proven that biodiversity loss could expand zoonoses - diseases transmitted from animals to humans. On the other hand, if we keep biodiversity intact, it offers excellent tools to fight against pandemics like those caused by coronaviruses. While there is a growing recognition that biological diversity is a global asset of tremendous value to future generations, the number of species is being significantly reduced by certain human activities. Given the importance of public education and awareness about this issue, the UN decided to celebrate the International Day for Biological Diversity on 22nd May every year.

Theme for 202

The theme in 2022 is "Building a shared future for all life". Fitting within the context of the ongoing United Nations Decade on Restoration, which highlights that biodiversity is the answer to several sustainable development challenges, the slogan conveys the message that biodiversity is the foundation upon which we can build back better. India has a unique position in the world in so far as it accounts for 7-8 per cent of the earth's total biodiversity. India is also one of the mega diverse countries, which together possess 60-70 per cent of the world's biodiversity. The unifying fabric of biodiversity is integral to the traditional knowledge systems of India's populace. The country's rich biological diversity is deeply interwoven with, and is a common thread to our diverse cultural history. Some important steps taken by the Government for preservation of biodiversity and resources inter alia include: survey, inventorization, taxonomic validation and threat assessment of floral and faunal resources; assessment of the forest cover to develop an accurate database for planning and monitoring; establishment of a Protected Area Network of National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries, Conservation and Community Reserves; designating Biosphere Reserves for conservation of representative ecosystems; undertaking of species oriented programmes, such as Project Tiger and Project Elephant; complemented with ex-situ conservation efforts. In addition, Biological Diversity Act, 2002 has also been enacted with the aim to conserve biological resources of the country and regulation of access to these resources to ensure equitable sharing of benefits arising out of their use, under which a National Biodiversity Authority and State Biodiversity Boards in all States have been set up for implementing the provisions of the Act. There are 18 Biosphere Reserves in India. But before getting to know more about them, it is imperative that we understand what a Biosphere Reserve is.

What is a Biosphere Reserve?

A Biosphere Reserve (BR) is an international designation by UNESCO for representative parts of natural and cultural landscapes extending over a large area of terrestrial or coastal/marine ecosystems or a combination thereof. BRs are designated to deal with one of the most important questions of reconciling the conservation of biodiversity, the quest for economic and social development and maintenance of associated cultural values. BRs are thus special environments for both people and nature and are living examples of how human beings and nature can co-exist while respecting each others' needs.

Criteria for designation of BR

·         A site that must contain an effectively protected and minimally disturbed core area of value of nature conservation

·         The core area should be typical of a bio-geographical unit and large enough to sustain viable populations representing all trophic levels in the ecosystem.

·         The management authority to ensure the involvement/ cooperation of local communities to bring a variety of knowledge and experiences to link biodiversity conservation and socio-economic development while managing and containing the conflicts.

·         Areas potential for preservation of traditional tribal or rural modes of living for harmonious use of the environment.

Biosphere reserves are demarcated into three interrelated zones

Core Zone: Core zone must contain suitable habitat for numerous plant and animal species, including higher order predators and may contain centres of end-emism. Core areas often conserve the wild relatives of economic species and also represent important genetic reservoirs having exceptional scientific interest. A core zone being National Park or Sanctuary/protected/regulated mostly under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. Whilst realizing that perturbation is an ingredient of ecosystem functioning, the core zone is to be kept free from human pressures external to the system.

Buffer Zone: The buffer zone adjoins or surrounds the core zone. Uses and activities are managed in this area in ways that help in protection of the core zone in its natural condition. These uses and activities include restoration, demonstration sites for enhancing value addition to the resources, limited recreation, tourism, fishing, grazing, etc; which are permitted to reduce its effect on the core zone. Research and educational activities are to be encouraged. Human activities, if natural within BR, are likely to continue if these do not adversely affect the ecological diversity.

Transition Zone: The transition area is the outermost part of a biosphere reserve. This is usually not a delimited one and is a zone of cooperation where conservation knowledge and management skills are applied and uses are managed in harmony with the purpose of the biosphere reserve. This includes settlements, crop lands, managed forests and areas for intensive recreation and other economic uses characteristics of the region.

Let us look at some of the Biosphere Reserves in India.

1.      Nilgiri

The Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve was the first biosphere reserve in India established in 1986. This Reserve exemplifies the tropical forest biome, and falls within the Western Ghats system which portrays the confluence of Afro-tropical and Indo-Malayan biotic zones of the world. Biogeographically, Western Ghats is the most important region and one of the noted 'Hot Spots' for speciation in the tropics. The Nilgiri is represented by unique and threatened ecosystems including a host of forest systems, ranging from seasonal rainforests in the low hills, tropical montane forests and grasslands in the higher reaches and moist deciduous to scrub through dry-deciduous towards the plains in the Eastern end. The very name 'Nilgiris' with literary meaning 'blue mountains' has originated from the spectacular appearance of blue flower clad mountains of the Nilgiris plateau within the State of Tamil Nadu. The region is noted for its rich biodiversity. It houses about 3,500 species of flowering plants, out of which 1500 are endemic to the Western Ghats. The fauna consists of over 100 species of mammals, 550 species of birds, 30 species of reptiles and amphibians, 300 species of butterflies, and a large number of invertebrates and many more species that await discovery by scientists.


2.      Great Nicobar

Great Nicobar is the southern-most island of the Nicobar Islands Archipelago. It covers 103,870 hectares of unique and threatened tropical evergreen forest ecosystems. It is home to a very rich ecosystem, including 650 species of angiosperms, ferns, gymnosperms, bryo-phytes, among others. In terms of fauna, there are over 1800 species, some of which are endemic to this area. The Great Nicobar Biosphere Reserve harbours a wide spectrum of ecosystems comprising tropical wet evergreen forests, mountain ranges, and coastal plains. The region is noted for its rich biodiversity. The region also harbours a large number of endemic and endangered species of fauna. To date, 11 species of mammals, 32 species of birds, 7 species of reptiles and 4 species of amphibians have been found to be endemic. Of these, the well-known Crab-eating Macaque, Nicobar Tree Shrew, Dugong, Nicobar Megapode, Serpent Eagle, saltwater crocodile, marine turtles and Reticulated Python are endemic and/or endangered.


3.      Pachmarhi

The Pachmarhi Biosphere Reserve is located in the biogeographical region of the Deccan Peninsula and the Biotic Province of Central India. The Satpura mountain ranges cross India from west to east and Pachmarhi lies directly in its centre. The highest peak is the Dhoopgarh, which reaches 1,352 metres above sea level, while the Pachmarhi hills are characterized by steep slopes in the northern regions. The eastern boundary of the biosphere reserve lies along a road with cultivation farms, close to the Dudhi River, while the southern boundary borders the Tawa plateau. Pachmarhi comprises three protection sites: the Bori Sanctuary, Satpura National Park and Pachmarhi Sanctuary - otherwise known as the Satpura Tiger Reserve. The Pachmarhi Plateau is also known as the 'Queen of Satpura', because it contains valleys, marshes, streams and waterfalls, all of which have led to the development of a unique and varied biodiversity. There exist more than 150 species of flora used for medicinal purposes. Over 50 mammal species, 254 bird species, 30 reptile species and 50 butterfly species live in the Pachmarhi Biosphere Reserve.


4.      Nokrek

The Nokrek Biosphere Reserve is located in the northeast of India on the Tura Range, which forms part of the Meghalaya Plateau (average altitude: 600 metres). The entire area is mountainous and Nokrek is the highest peak of the Garo hills, rising up 1,412 metres. The north of the reserve embraces rather gently undulating hills, while steep slopes characterize the south. The biosphere reserve contains major rivers and streams that form a perennial catchment system. Examples include the Ganol, Dareng and Simsang rivers, of which the latter is the longest and largest. The Simsang originates in the north of the Biosphere Reserve, the Dareng from the southern peaks, and the Ganol flows westward into the Brahamputra River, which supplies water to numerous towns.

The tropical climate is characterized by high humidity, monsoon rains (April-October) and high temperatures, which presents ideal circumstances for the growth of rich vegetation, and consequently for the development of a unique and varied biodiversity. Evergreen and semi-evergreen deciduous forests dominate the landscape: 90% of the Nokrek Biosphere Reserve is covered by evergreen forest. Some patches of bamboo forest can also be found in the lower altitudes, and a remarkable variety of endemic Citrus spp. can also be found in the reserve, especially Citrus indica (Indian wild orange).

The reserve is home to many unique and endangered animals, such as tigers, leopards, elephants and Hoolock gibbons; the latter are the most endangered apes in India and therefore receive special protection.


5.      Sunderban

Sunderban is the largest delta and mangrove forest in the world. Named after the mangrove plant Sundari (Heritiera minor), it is located over the South Parganas district of West Bengal and the Khulna and Backarganj districts in Bangladesh. Sunderban Biosphere Reserve includes Sunderban Tiger Reserve, Sunderban National Park, Lothian Island Wildlife San-ctuary, and Sajnakhali Wildlife Sanctuary. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, an 'Important Bird Area' and a proposed Ramsar Site. The mangroves reduce the fury of cyclonic storms and prevent coastal erosion caused by tidal action. Sunderban has extremely rich diversity of aquatic and terres-trial flora and fauna. In fact, Sunderban's highly productive ecosystem acts as a natural fish nursery. More than 40 species of mammals, 163 species of birds, 56 species of reptiles, 165 species of fish, 23 species of molluscs, 15 species of prawns, 67 species of crabs have so far been reported in Sunderban Biosphere Reserve, such as the hawk eagle and the south water crocodile.


6.      Khangchendzonga

Located in the state of Sikkim, bordering Nepal to the west and Tibet (China) to the north-west, this biosphere reserve is one of the highest ecosystems in the world, reaching elevations of 1,220 to 8,586 metres above sea level. The site is one of the world's 34 biodiversity hotspots. It includes vast natural forests that support high species diversity with high levels of endemism. The main economic activities are agricultural and horticultural crops, animal husbandry, fish, dairy and poultry farming. Situated over the Himalayan trans-axial belt, the Biosphere Reserve's most common constituents are valleys with numerous ravines, deep gorges and gullies, saddles, crests, knolls and river-terraces. Several lakes of different sizes are also found at this belt. Further up the important topographic features are rocky outcrops at the base of Himalayas, with glacial moraines, scarps, talons, etc. There are 73 important lakes which are embedded in seven watersheds. The biosphere reserve is a trans-boundary bio-diversity hot-spot conservation area. There are about 22 endemic and 22 rare and threatened plants in the area. Besides, there are about 30 species of rhododendrons recorded and out of over 42 confirmed mammal species belonging to 16 families in the area.


Compiled by: Anuja Bhardwajan & Annesha Banerjee Source: UNESCO/PIB/ Wildlife Institute of India