~ By Satvik Parashar
Conservation on a holistic level that maintains biodiversity as well as local livelihood requires collaborations across scientists, local people, decision-makers and practitioners. Such strategy engages NGOs, researchers and governments within what is called a Science, Policy and Practice Interface (SPPI). This calls for the involvement of a socio-ecological network that drives collaborations between trans-disciplinary organizations and measures the effectiveness of the knowledge gained through this collaboration, for multiple goals. Our network – the NCCI is one such network, and a recent paper by Amrita Neelakantan, Kishore Rithe, Gary Tabor and Ruth DeFries discusses the institutional context within which NCCI operates and indicators that could measure our work in the future.
The familiar Central Indian Highlands cover an area of more than 450000 sq. kms, spanning the states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. The landscape consists of several Protected Areas (PAs) and Tiger Reserves (TRs), and is home to a variety of flora and fauna.
Central Indian Highlands and protected areas landscapes. (a) India and location of the Central Indian Highlands (CIH)region across three states (Yellow and orange polygons depicting parts Madhya Pradesh (MP), Chhattisgarh (CH) and Maharashtra (MH) states) as well as PAs (green polygons). (b) Forest cover (dark green) in the region with embedded PAs (lighter green polygons) show corridors between the PAs
Agroforestry as an avenue for enhanced livelihoods, lower ungulate-crop raiding and PES in central India
~ by Satvik Parashar
Since the last few decades, biodiversity conservation measures in India have largely been dependent on the creation of state-controlled protected areas (PAs). Despite the popularity, PAs in India face many conservation challenges that include fragmentation, insufficient size, limited connectivity, development pressure, close proximity to human population etc. Additionally, there can be resentment among some local populations in these areas as they are seldom part of the decision making processes that directly affect them. Inclusive strategies such as ecotourism and biodiversity-friendly agriculture are proving to be more sustainable steps in conservation. A recent paper focuses on the effectiveness of voluntary conservation initiatives on private agricultural lands such as agroforestry. For the involvement of landowners in agroforestry, the influence of factors such as 1) Program Design, 2) Land Characteristics, Demographic and socio-economic characteristics of landowners, 3) Socio-psychological variables of landowners has been studied in this paper.
Figure 1 :Program Factors and Landowner Characteristics that shape Landowner Preferences
~ by Archita Sharma
Two conservation priority landscapes in India - the Western Ghats and Central India remain major strongholds for several endemic and threatened species. However, urbanization and land conversion have resulted in wide-scale habitat fragmentation in both the landscapes. Fragmentation can alter how animals move across a landscape.
Wide-ranging mammals are particularly affected because they travel long distances to forage, breed, and find new territories. Identifying where and how have the mammalian movements been impacted at large regional scales will be critical in ensuring habitat connectivity and preventing local extinctions.
A new study published in Biological Conservation evaluated landscape-wide permeability to the movement of five endangered and vulnerable mammals - Asian Elephant, Gaur, Leopard, Sambar, and Sloth Bear in these two priority landscapes. The expansive study area covered 120,000 km2 of the Western Ghats and 729,000 km2 of the Central Indian region. For each of the five study species, the researchers modelled movement in the presence and absence of landscape features such as land-use land-cover, infrastructure and human population. They generated spatially explicit maps identifying areas where animal movement is impeded, reduced, unrestricted, increased, and channeled. These categories can be interpreted as follows – movement is impeded and reduced due to underlying high resistance landscape features, unrestricted due to underlying low resistance areas, finally increased and channeled due to high resistance surrounding landscape features.
~ by Kalyanee Paranjape
As one of the fastest growing economies in the world, India’s topography is undergoing rapid changes. Due to this expansion, ecosystems are under threat due to rapid land use changes and fragmentation. This has led to a growing interest in integrating conservation concerns in infrastructure development in India and an urgent need to illustrate the extent of their fragmentation.
A recent paper titled, “Bits and pieces: Forest fragmentation by linear intrusions in India”, aims to understand the impact of infrastructure developments on forest structural connectivity in India through analyzing forest patch characteristics. The authors have utilized patch size, amount of perforation and inter-patch distance to quantify clusters and fragmentation categories. Cluster analysis was used to identify large, intact patches that need to be preserved in future development action plans. And results were summarized at the national scale and for the existing protected area (PA) network. The results also cover two important conservation landscapes; the Western Ghats and Central India, which are rich in biodiversity and critical for survival of several threatened large mammals including tiger and Asian elephant.
The scientists found an increase in the number of forest patches and a reduction in the number of large patches due to linear infrastructure in India. High tension power-transmission lines and major roads were the most common linear intrusions within forests, and 70 % of the assessed protected areas had some amount of linear infrastructure passing through them. They also discovered that the highest fragmentation due to linear intrusions was observed in Central India, where an intact forest habitat of size 162,000 km2 was split into 5200 smaller patches with a mean patch size of 30 km2 and the largest patch being 16,850 km2 in size.
The authors recommend that infrastructure projects should not be established through the existing forests and when inevitable, proper mitigation strategies are vital to maintain connectivity. A more rational development plan would be to connect larger numbers of villages or people while safeguarding forests rather than to establish the shortest routes that would destroy forests, biodiversity, and ecosystem services. The study addresses the issue of fragmentation within forests and develops techniques that can be usefully applied to mitigate fragmentation problems in other fragile ecosystems such as tropical grasslands and savannas.
Spatial distribution of forest patches and their size: (a) Depicts the patch size distribution as influenced by infrastructure; (b) Depicts patch size distribution in absence of infrastructure intrusion.
Original Paper: Nayak, R., Karanth, K. K., Dutta, T., Defries, R., Karanth, K. U., & Vaidyanathan, S. (2020). Bits and pieces: Forest fragmentation by linear intrusions in India. Land Use Policy, (September 2018), 104619. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landusepol.2020.104619
~ by Archita Sharma (WWF-India)
The Central Indian Landscape has been a stronghold for several long-ranging wild mammals for several thousands of years. Its dense forests and rolling grasslands provide a rich holdout for tigers and several other carnivores, big and small, prowling, hunting, and stalking in the shadows of this wild heartland. But over the last century, Central India has lost a share of its forests to growing human settlements, railways, roads and rampant mining. So, a landscape that was once a contiguous expanse of dry deciduous forests is now fragmented, remaining with 34% forest cover, out of which only 8.5% is legally protected.
Long-ranging mammals need room to roam. In many mammalian carnivores, the juveniles move out of their mother's territory to establish their own, with the males moving long distances to find new territories. When their dispersal routes to seek out prey, territory and mates are severed by roads, cities, villages, mining, and railways, natural populations can be isolated into small island populations. These small isolated populations face a higher risk of disease and extinction. Population genetic structure can help us determine the isolation or connectivity in natural populations.
To put it simply, genetic structure captures the level of genetic variation existing in a population. If mammals from different forest patches are mating with each other, they will be genetically more similar and will consequently have a lower genetic structure. Similarly, isolated populations will be genetically more distinct and will have higher genetic structure. Using DNA as a tool, estimating structure and connectivity in mammals can help us understand fine scale impacts of fragmentation. While there are several such studies on tigers, very little is known about how fragmentation impacts other mammalian species.
A new study published in Diversity and Distribution answers how the same level of habitat fragmentation has differential impacts multiple mammalian species in the threatened Central Indian Landscape. Researchers from the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bengaluru, investigated the genetic structure and connectivity in four long-ranging mammalian species — jungle cat, leopard, sloth bear, and tiger. The four species have varying body size, diet and dispersal abilities, and are expected to have species-specific responses to fragmentation. The two major objectives of the study were (1) to understand how the genetic structure is partitioned between these four species and (2) to find out how different landscape features like roads, built-up areas, and human density impact connectivity and dispersal in the study species.
Project Spotlight highlights our members' work in Central India.
|Network for Conserving Central India||