~ by Prameek Kannan (WWF-India)
The rusty-spotted cat is endemic to the Indian subcontinent; found in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Little is known about the ecology of this smallest of the world’s felids, and this combined with it’s rarity have warranted it being listed under ‘Schedule I,’ of the Wildlife Protection Act of India (1972). This is the same category of protection as the tiger and Asian elephant, which means that hunting or trading in it’s body parts can result in up to 7 years of incarceration for the guilty.
Until recently, it was considered as ‘Vulnerable,’ by the IUCN, but an increase in it’s occurrence records in different habitats in India and Nepal has seen it down-listed to ‘Near Threatened.’ However, even the most basic aspects of its biology, such as its habitat requirements, home range characteristics and diet remain unknown; these are crucial for conservation planning. A recent study provides a broad understanding of this species’ habitat preferences.
Kanha Tiger Reserve (KTR) in the central Indian highlands is the site for this study. The reserve harbors a mosaic of vegetation types, including; meadows and woodlands in the valleys (dominated by Sal Shorea robusta), hilly tracts of dense mixed deciduous forests and hilly plateaus with extensive grasslands. It also contains numerous perennial streams and ponds that support swamp vegetation. Kanha is a heaven for a whole suite of globally threatened species such as the endangered tiger and dhole, and vulnerable leopard, gaur, sambar, four-horned antelope and endemic hard ground barasingha deer.
~ by Kalyanee Paranjape
Given the tumultuous history of conservation and establishment of national parks, it is important to note that protected areas continue to provide various benefits to the local population. These benefits are not just limited to providing ecosystem services but also have shown to alleviate poverty. Various scholars have discussed these benefits by analyzing the various types of capital but few have evaluated them in a single system.
A recent paper titled, “Contributions of financial, social and natural capital to food security around Kanha National Park in central India”, sheds more light of this. The researchers have utilized the five capitals model of sustainable development – including financial capital, social capital, natural capital, human capital, to clarify associations between certain livelihood factors and food access in the Kanha National Park (KNP) landscape. This framework has allowed the researchers to explore locally contextual links between livelihood characteristics and well-being while also providing a way to compare across time and geography. The authors have focused on food security as a multidimensional aspect of well-being.
The study took place in central India (yellow inset) surrounding Kanha National Park (dark grey polygon), surveyed households are demarcated by black dots.
The paper revolves around three aspects, the status of food security around KNP, how it varies across seasons and geography; and the contribution of the three capitals including finance, social and natural to household level food security. The team used semi structure interviews to extensively survey around 800 household across three seasons (summer, monsoon and winter) to capture seasonal changes of food security and livelihoods.
~ 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).
~ by Amrita Neelakantan (coordinator NCCI)
To grow food sustainably means moving beyond the calorie-focus of the green revolution. Before we all ate rice and wheat as staples, there were other cereals in our diets and in our agriculture. The calorific gains from the green revolution while undeniable are proving to be too single-minded with a few persisting challenges like undernourishment, micronutrient deficiencies and groundwater depletion. To consider what sustainable crop production might mean for a country like India, this paper by Kyle Davis and co-authors built multiple scenarios of monsoon cereals.
The reason to focus on monsoon cereals is because the maximum production of the cereals that could be used to make the switch occurs alongside rice in monsoon and the fact that cereals make-up a large percentage of the typical Indian diet. The authors included cereals already in focus by the current nutrition policies and therefore they excluded maize. Each scenario built, keeps in mind the current calorie production and current extent of cropland.
They explain scenarios where crop-switching would provide improved nutrition security, environmental benefits, and climate resilience gains. The study provides a robust case for assessing trade-off analyses among nutrient supply, climate resilience, and environmental outcomes to create more sustainable food systems.
The main optimized scenarios that the authors build are: Maximum supply of protein or iron; maximum savings in water, energy and greenhouse gas emissions (GHG emissions); and finally maximum climate resilience. The authors define climate resilience as the least loss in production during a historically extreme dry year.
In the below scenario – the goal in mind is to have maximum water savings and help identify the places that might achieve the largest benefits. Highly sought after, such analyses can begin to help policy makers and managers on-the-ground focus on how best to manage water in the future by balancing demands by urban centers and agriculture within the state or district.
Project Spotlight highlights our members' work in Central India.
|Network for Conserving Central India||