~ by Prachi Thatte (WWF-India)
Home to several species of mammals and birds, the Deccan plateau has a mix of dry and moist deciduous forests. These forests are adapted to moderate rainfall during monsoon and a long dry season characteristic of central India. But this has not always been the case. The geological and climatic history of earth is marked by many periods of changes and even flips. A recent study adds to the evidence that the Deccan plateau once supported dense rainforests and a seaway that passed through the heart of central India.
During the age of dinosaurs, around 200 million years ago, South America, Africa, India, Australia and Antarctica together formed a supercontinent, the Gondwana. Due to plate tectonic movements, the Indian subcontinent gradually separated from rest of the land masses, started moving north and eventually collided with Eurasia, forming the mighty Himalayas. Before the collision, the subcontinent went through a long isolated journey along different latitudes and experienced different climates. This story of movement and dynamic climate is stored in the fossils found deep under the surface of the soil.
The breakup of Gondwana, 200 million years ago, and motion of continents to their present-day positions. Source: http://pubs.usgs.gov/gip/dynamic/historical.html
Bones, scales, leaves and even pollen and cysts get preserved between sedimentary deposits creating a rich historical library over years. Fossils stored at different depths and the associated soil/rock can give a glimpse of the geological and biological history of a region. A recent study, carried out by scientists from Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeosciences (Lucknow) and Indian Institute of Technology (Roorkee), looked at such a piece of history from Ashti village in Yeotmal district of Maharashtra. The researchers bored an 80 meters deep narrow shaft and excavated the soil and rock sample. Around 60 m below the ground surface they found fossils- pollen, spores and cysts around 60-70 million years old.
These fossils were found below the layer of lava that came from the Deccan volcanic flow. So the fossils belong to a time before the volcanic event that happened around 66 million years ago. The fossils were identified as spores from different species of aquatic ferns and pollen from a couple of species of palm. The authors also discovered two new species of pollen- Dipterocarpuspollenites cretacea and Retiacolpites pigafettaensis. Although these species with jawbreaker names are now extinct, the existing relatives of these are found in low-lying rain forests and thrive in highly humid conditions. This suggests that their extinct relatives might also have preferred similar conditions. The authors also found high abundance of Nypa palm pollen. Nypa is a coastal palm that requires highly humid conditions and is currently only found in Sundarbans in India. Based on all this fossil evidence, the authors conclude that, before the Deccan volcanism, while the Indian subcontinent was still floating, the area around Yavatmal was a low-lying coastal area with high humidity due to persistent rainfall.
~ by Amrita Neelakantan (coordinator NCCI)
Mahi Puri and colleagues have conducted extensive surveys to find out what leopards eat and how might leopard diets change in the future. The study focuses on the important corridor between Kanha and Pench national parks. Leopards live within and outside of forests, with some taking up residence in the agricultural matrix. Wildlife outside the bounds of protected areas interact much more often with humans over a range of human activities – grazing cattle, growing crops and collecting non-timber forest produce to name a few. Understanding how our human lives affect and in turn change the behavior of wild species is important for a future where humans and big cats might continue to live side by side in one of the world’s more populated places that remains vital for global wildlife conservation goals. In addition, the knowledge of benefits provided by carnivore presence can help offset the negative perceptions around these species. Mahi Puri and her team extensively surveyed forest and households across the corridor to make sense of drivers of leopard distribution, conflict, and current patterns of their diet to showcase what might change in the future.
The big takeaway from this paper is that within the surveyed sites leopards predominantly ate wild prey (langur and ungulates) – an important consideration for human-wildlife conflict in the region. Occupancy statistics also highlight that leopards are more likely to be in spots with ample wild-prey confirming that leopards still prefer wild-prey and are not preferentially moving into human dominated areas for non-wild prey (signified by cattle and dog icons in the figures).
Project Spotlight highlights our members' work in Central India.
|Network for Conserving Central India||