BIODIVERSITY AND PROBLEMS OF CONSERVATION
C KAMESWARA RAO
Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education
The term 'Biodiversity' is the short form of Biological diversity, used to convey the total number, variety and variability of living organisms in a given area, whether be it on land, in rivers and fresh water bodies, and the seas or the whole surface of the earth. Biodiversity embraces the whole of life, and includes all the micro-organisms, plants and animals, on earth. Biodiversity also refers to and includes the genes of organisms, the ecosystems they live in and the services they provide to keep the planet healthy. The term 'biological resources' denotes those components of biodiversity which maintain the current or potential human uses.
1. THE GENESIS OF A GLOBAL PLAN OF ACTION ON BIODIVERSITY
Biodiversity and related issues are now a serious global concern. An awareness of the issues involved is not really new, though the urgency for action was driven home in stages, as briefed below:
a) UN Conference at Stockholm in June 1972 and the Declaration on the Human Environment;
b) United Nations' Environment Programme (UNEP) of 1991, setting i) priorities for action for conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and agenda for scientific and technological research; b) evaluation of economic implications of conservation of biodiversity and its sustainable use, and evaluation of biological and genetic resources; c) technology transfer and financial issues; and d) modalities of a protocol for transfer and handling of any living modified organisms through biotechnology;
c) The Earth Summit (or UN Conference on Environment and Development) at Rio de Janeiro, June 1992, where the document 'Agenda 21', that defined the programme for biodiversity estimation, conservation, sustainable use, involvement of local populations and their interests, etc., was adopted by 178 Governments of the world nations (Anonymous. 1993). This document is organised under 27 Principles and covers all issues concerning biodiversity. Although the Governments have been a party to the document, action in the respective countries can be taken only when legislative measures, through different Acts of Government, are available. Progress in this regard has been patchy. Nevertheless, there is the much needed awareness of the issues involved.
2. COMPONENTS OF BIODIVERSITY
Biodiversity is usually classified into three categories that represent three fundamental and related levels of biological organisation: a) Ecosystem Diversity, b) Species Diversity and c) Genetic Diversity.
3. ECOSYSTEM DIVERSITY
An ecosystem is a natural unit consisting of nonliving (abiotic) and living (biotic) components occurring together in nature, which interact to produce a stable system. A forest, a grassland, a pond, and a desert, are examples of ecosystems. The abiotic component consists of the soil, the water and the air whose physical and chemical properties sustain and/or affect life. The biotic component of an ecosystem is formed of living organisms. Functionally these may be producers, consumers or decomposers or a combination of these. All the components of an ecosystem are subject to variability and in turn alter the composition and nature of the ecosystem.
Ecosystem diversity relates to the variety of habitats, biotic communities and ecological processes in the biosphere as well as the diversity within ecosystems. It is generally concerned with the principal biogeographic regions and habitats.
Ecosystem diversity can be described at the following levels and scales:
a) Functional diversity: the relative abundance of functionally different kinds of organisms;
b) Community diversity: the numerical sizes and spatial distribution of communities of organisms, which is often referred to as patchiness; and
c) Landscape diversity: the diversity of scales of patchiness.
Reid and Miller (1989) suggested six rules of ecosystem dynamics which link environmental changes, biodiversity and ecosystem processes:
i) the number and kinds of species that make up communities and ecosystem; change constantly and continuously;
ii) species diversity increases as the environmental heterogeneity or patchiness of a habitat does, but increasing habitat patchiness does not necessarily result in increased species richness;
iii) habitat patchiness influences not only the composition of species in an ecosystem, but also the interaction among the species;
iv) periodic disturbances play an important role in creating the patchy environments that foster high species richness and help to keep an array of habitat patches in various states of succession of vegetation and fauna;
vi) certain species (keystone species) have disproportionate influences on the characteristics of an ecosystem which may be transformed or undermined by the loss of these species.
The relationships of ecosystems, both within and between, are very complex, sensitive to changes and have a profound influence on the other two levels of biodiversity.
4. SPECIES DIVERSITY
Species diversity represents the numbers and the degree of variability of families, genera and species. However, only species richness comes to be regarded for purposes of measuring species diversity.
Species are now generally regarded as populations within which gene flow occurs under natural conditions. By this definition, the members of one species do not interbreed freely and do not produce fertile offspring, with the members of other species. New species originate due to a variety of causes which determine their structure and reproductive behaviour. For this reason, no single definition of a species is universally applicable. The concept of species is one of the much debated and inconclusive issues in biology.
The exact number of species of all living organisms is not known, even approximately. About 2,75,000 species of flowering plants are scientifically known and some estimates (or guesstimates) indicate that an equal number of species of flowering plants awaits scientific discovery. Wilson (1988) estimated that the number of species of all organisms falls between 5 and 30 million. A recent estimate puts the known species at a little over 1.4 million (Gadgil, 1996). At present, probably about 1.5 million species of all organisms have been scientifically described and named. A far greater lot more is yet to be known to science. Ignorance, is thus the basic cause for the enormity and insolvability of several aspects of the species problem.
Habitat variability promotes species richness. Wide ranges of distribution result in genetic diversity. In comparison to the temperate parts of the world, the tropical regions harbour a vast range of biodiversity. The global distribution patterns indicate that species richness decreases with latitude. Diversity also decreases with increasing altitude. In the marine habitats, diversity negatively correlates with depth.
5. GENETIC DIVERSITY
Genetic diversity is the amount of genetic variability occurring within a species, which is the sum total of genetic information contained in the genes of all individual organisms of that species. This is the most important aspect of biodiversity.
Some amount of genetic diversity is readily discernible in the form of visible differences in the expression of a particular character. The medicinally important species, Catharanthus roseus has usually pink flowers but a white flowered variety also occurs along with the pink flowered variety. In this species, the flower colour is also associated with the distribution of anthocyanin (the pink pigment) on the vegetative parts. Another example is Clitoria ternatea where both blue and white flowered varieties coexist. Such visibly apparent variability may or may not have a genetic basis, as some variability is due to an interaction of the same genotype with different types of the environment, (phenotypic plasticity). Live plants of the 'black' variety of the sacred basil (Ocimum sanctum, krishna tulasi), collected from the Western Ghats, became green in a couple of months at Bangalore, on profuse watering. Some amount of variability is due to the differences in the genetic constitution of individuals/populations of a species. Such gene based variability is faithfully transmitted to the subsequent generations. Only this gene based variability is important in issues of biodiversity.
One complete set of all genes of an organism is its 'genome'. In prokaryotic organisms (such as bacteria) there is only one set of genes while in most others (eukaryotes) there are two (in some more than two) sets of genes. The number of genes in an organism is widely variable. Some bacteria have about 1,000 genes, the yeast (Saccharomyces cervisiae) has 6,100 genes and while up to 40,000 genes are known in some flowering plants. The number of genes in man is about 1,30,000, involving about three billion nucleotides in 46 chromosomes. The total genetic component of a species is represented by all of the individuals of that species in the entire world constitutes its gene pool. Virtually no two individuals of the same species are 100 per cent genetically identical. For this reason, it is possible to identify individuals by DNA finger printing, as for example, in paternity disputes or forensic issues.
The magnitude and importance of genetic diversity was brought to light mostly by studies on cultivated plants. Existing varieties in cultivation were selected for specific characters that are of benefit to us. A far greater amount of genetic diversity is submerged under heterozygosity in the cultivated species. Repeated selfing has thrown up an unimaginably wide range of recessive characters in several crop plants like rice, bajra, sorghum and others. Since we do not know which of these genetic traits will be useful in future, perhaps even more useful than the characters that are presently valued, it is felt necessary that the gene pools should be conserved.
Genetic diversity often falls into patterns that characterise subgroups, within a species , which have distinct economically valued traits. A number of crop plant species have, in addition to the scientifically recognised varieties (cultivars), a large number of local genetically different variants over the range of their geographical distribution/cultivation. These are, often ambiguously, called races or land races, occur in an inestimably large numbers in the case of the widely cultivated crops like rice, wheat, bajra, jowar, etc. The enormity of the problem in handling genetic variability should be evident from the existence of over 1,00,000 varieties of rice, over 15,000 varieties of the common bean and 12,000 of the potato. The genetic variability of cultivated species/varieties and their wild relatives, together forms a continued basic supply of traits for breeding new and improved varieties and for this reason these are called the 'genetic resources' of a country/region. A similar situation, largely unexplored and unexploited, though may be of a lesser magnitude, exists also in other plant species, including the medicinally important ones.
In the case of medicinal plants, it is known that populations of a particular species from certain localities have been traditionally preferred. There are no systematic studies on medicinal plants with reference to gene based differences in the production of therapeutically active chemical constituents, but there are several indications. For example, a therapeutically useful lectin (a specific class of protein, detailed in a later chapter) from the seed of Jack fruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus) showed 2,500 times more activity in a sample from Bangalore, than in a sample from Madras (Hunter, 1986). This is one aspect of chemical diversity, a component of genetic diversity. Studies on chemical diversity, both quantitative and qualitative, on medicinal plants are largely absent and very much needed.
In view of these considerations, it seems necessary that at least the important and the more commonly used medicinal plants are studied systematically with reference to their genetic diversity.
6. TAXONOMY AND DIVERSITY OF PLANTS
May (1990) wrote that "without taxonomy to give shape to bricks and systematics to tell us how to put them together, the house of biological science is a meaningless jumble". Taxonomy is the foundation of the study of biodiversity.
Work on the exploration of genetic resources of useful plants, their evaluation and conservation require a sound foundation of taxonomy. In fact, all the work that now forms the foundation of biodiversity studies was the contribution of taxonomists. The taxonomist with his eye for character distribution, expression and variation, would contribute immensely to a rational classification and conservation of diversity of plants. We seem to know very little of the taxonomy of several taxa with wide ranging uses. Even those species, that are widely cultivated for use as food, are also not very well understood. Curcuma, Zingiber, Colocasia, Amorphophallus, and several others (most of them vegetatively propagated for their economically useful vegetative parts) have been cited in this regard for 190 years or so (Humboldt, 1807; Hawkes, 1978). Still these taxa badly need the serious attention of a taxonomist.
In general, a large number of species of plants in India require a thorough taxonomic handling a) for their accurate botanical description and taxonomic determination, and b) to understand the magnitude of their diversity and usefulness, and c) to determine the need for and extent of conservation.
7. LOSS OF BIODIVERSITY
There has been a rapid decline in the biodiversity of the world, more particularly during the past two decades or so. Biodiversity losses have been alarming in the developing countries in the tropics. For example, in the Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka, the forest area has come down from 8,000 sq km to 6,000 sq km, in about 40 years (Potter, 1996). This constitutes an enormous loss of biodiversity in a small area over a short period of time. There are innumerable such examples, the world over. The underdeveloped countries are generally less aware of the degree of biodiversity loss in their countries and its consequences.
Biodiversity losses occur due to habitat destruction, over harvesting, pollution, inappropriate and often accidental, introduction of exotic plants and animals, etc. Habitat destruction is often related to development projects like land conversion, construction of dams, etc. Biodiversity is also lost due to sudden natural calamities like floods, cyclones, hurricanes, earth quakes, etc. Conservation of biodiversity is one of the paramount concerns the world over. Governments, nongovernmental organisations (NGOs), scientists, are all preoccupied with the problem of devising ways and means of conserving biodiversity, or at least retarding the rapid rate of its loss.
8. ESTIMATES OF BIODIVERSITY LOSS
There have been several estimates and projections of the loss of world's biodiversity. Since most of habitat destruction is through human activities, these are the basis of most calculations.
Of an estimated 17,444,300 square kilo meters of primary vegetation in 25 of the world's hotspots (explained later on), only 2,122,891 square kilo meters of vegetation exists now, constituting 12.5 per cent of the original vegetation (Myers et al., 2000). This is one dimension of the magnitude of biodiversity loss.
Pimm and Raven (2000) concluded that if no hotspots are saved, at the current rates of tropical forest extinction, about 50,000 species per million will be lost by 2060 CE. There are some hotspots currently under protection. If these are saved as they are now, by 2010 CE about 30,000 species per million will be lost and the rate of loss will slowly decline. If all the hotspots are saved, which does not seem possible, the current rate of species loss of about 18,000 species per million will decline. The rates of decline are related not merely to the actual rate of decline but also to the fact that fewer and fewer species will be left, decade after decade, to be lost.
Myers et al., (2000) estimated that the protection of species at risk would cost about US$ 20 million per hotspot per year, over the next five years and so US$ 500 million, annually, for the 25 hotspots now identified. Another estimate suggests US$ 300 billion annually (James et al., 1999) and when subsidies on different accounts are added it is about US$ 1.5 trillion, annually, world-wide (Myers, 1999).
Since in many parts of the world, it is not adequately known as to the kind and extent of biodiversity that exists and that requires protection, it is also necessary to conduct status surveys. It has been estimated that it requires about US$ 3 billion, and 150 years of time, just to draw up a list of life in the world (Donellan, 1995). With India harbouring a fairly large share of the world's biodiversity (about one sixth), at least US$ 50 million would be needed to list the plants and animal species in India.
9. HOTSPOTS OF BIODIVERSITY
Hotspots are areas featuring exceptional concentrations of endemic species and experiencing exceptional loss of habitat (Myers, 1988; Myers et al., 2000).
Endemic species (genera, families) are restricted in their geographical distribution to defined areas and do not occur outside these areas, in their native state. Most endemics are not economically important. The endemic status of species of a particular area should be periodically reviewed, in order to be certain.
To qualify to the list of hotspots, an area should have at least 0.5 per cent of all species of plants world-wide, as endemics. Hotspots are also identified, by some other researchers, on the basis of richness of rare or taxonomically unusual species, in the areas under threat. Recognition of hotspots is a pre-requisite to identify areas whose biodiversity needs urgent measures of protection.
Earlier, Myers (1988, 1990) had recognised 18 hotspots. These have now been increased to 25 (Myers et al., 2000), which harbour 44 per cent of all endemic species of plants (300,000) and 35 per cent of all endemic vertebrates (27,298).
So long as no serious conservation measures are implemented, a mere recognition of hotspots does not serve any purpose. We need to gather a huge lot and range of basic information in order to make our conservation programmes successful. In most cases we do not even know what species occur in a specified area. Although a considerable lot of taxonomic work was carried out in India, a sad but largely true comment that applies to many floristic works, is that they are based on 'road side surveys'. There is an urgent need for a systematic and through study of the recognised hotspot areas.
The Indian Subcontinent Plant Specialist Group of the SSC, which met in January 1998, resolved that the most urgent action in the conservation of the Indian flora, is to conduct status surveys to identify the species that need protection by conservation.
10. PROTECTED AREAS
Defined areas, such as hotspots, totally protected from all activity and interference, have often been suggested as a measure of effective conservation. Sacred Groves (devara kaadu; God's forest) are cited as models in this context. Sacred Groves are patches of vegetation of various dimensions and antiquity, attached to temples and temple lands, and protected on the fear of God, from all kinds of activity and exploitation, for very long periods of time. Sacred Groves, more frequent in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, than elsewhere, often have shown a vegetational composition different from outside the protected site in the same area. Even new species have been reported from Sacred Groves, as for example Kunstleria keralensis. In the absence of data from the time of inception of the Sacred Groves till now, to compare the floristic and other changes in these areas, comparison and assessment of the real benefits of cardoning off of vegetational areas are difficult. Even when an area is cardoned off to protect it from outside influences, a certain amount of biodiversity is lost in course of time and some amount of new diversity will show up, due to an interaction of internal factors. Such natural loss of biodiversity is continuous and imperceptible and is a part of the natural process of evolution. A study of Mukkuthala Kavu, a Sacred Grove in the Malappuram district of Kerala, a certain amount of disturbance was noticed (Nair et al., 1997), some of which is certainly due to internal factors.
In the present times, total protection of areas, small or big, requires heavy financial inputs. Such protection will also defeat the objective of utilisation of natural resources for human welfare. Total protection of an area to prevent biodiversity loss is both impossible and impracticable. It is also not feasible in the long run to preserve the whole of biodiversity in botanical/zoological gardens, green houses, etc., (Tewari, 1993). No matter what we do, natural and time dependent changes in biodiversity are inevitable.
11. CONSERVATION OF BIODIVERSITY
Conservation is the planned management of natural resources, to retain the natural balance, diversity and evolutionary change in the environment (Lincoln et al., 1982). It is a protective measure taken a) to prevent the loss of genetic diversity of a species, b) to save a species from becoming extinct, and c) to protect an ecosystem from damage so as to promote its sustained utilisation.
The aims and objectives of biodiversity/species conservation programmes are:
a) to promote conservation of biodiversity in defined habitats and geographical areas;
b) to identify components of biodiversity in a region for conservation and sustainable use;
c) to promote in situ (explained later) conservation and sustainable management of ecosystems, natural habitats and species populations;
d) to establish and formulate strategies for ex situ (explained later) conservation for the components of biodiversity through an integrated scientific research;
e) to study the intrinsic and extrinsic factors causing the depletion of species/populations and to formulate and adopt scientifically oriented conservation strategies;
f) to identify Biodiversity Conservation Regions and 'hot spot' areas (that require urgent measures) in the world for concentrated research and protection;
g) to promote research in traditional and ethic knowledge areas on, and utilisation of, natural resources, and to encourage equitable sharing of benefits arising out of utilisation of such knowledge systems;
h) to promote research on wild relatives, land races and cultivars of cultivated species;
i) to maintain database systems on economically important groups of plant and animal species as a source information on them;
j) to evolve guidelines for the management of protected areas so as to enable the policy makers and managers to take effective measures to conserve biodiversity and species; and
k) to disseminate information on the importance of conservation and sustainable utilisation of biodiversity, through popular and scientific publications and other educational programmes.
Since the criteria and action plans differ very widely, often within a particular country, depending upon the needs of a specific situation, no uniform approach is practicable. Biological conservation has its own impacts on environment and the society, which need to be addressed carefully before any programme is implemented (Balakrishna, 1999).
12. MEASURES FOR CONSERVATION OF BIODIVERSITY
It is essential that biodiversity, particularly in the tropical regions of the world, is conserved taking urgent steps. Economic gains, immediate or long range, concerning individuals, organisations or governments are one of the important factors in biodiversity conservation priorities. Politics follow potential economic gains. Countries which have the diversity would like to gain by their natural resources. Countries which lack in an appreciable and/or profitable biodiversity component, want to benefit from the biodiversity of other countries without payment, or with payment of minimal costs. The fact that most wars were fought for natural resources and/or trade in them, should be kept in mind.
In the absence of definitive knowledge to determine the component of biodiversity that has to be conserved and of plans and machinery to effect it, the only sensible option is to monitor a reasonable protection to the existing biodiversity, till such time that priorities are determined and an action plan emerges.
13. OPTIONS FOR BIODIVERSITY CONSERVATION
Options and priorities for biodiversity conservation have been discussed at length in different contexts in fora at different levels (Chauhan, 1993; Khoshoo, 1996). The same criteria also related to the medicinal plants.
The specimens in herbaria and musea serve only as a record of biodiversity, as they comprise of dead material.
The following options exist for the conservation of live material:
A. EX SITU CONSERVATION
b) Genetic reserves in the form of single-use wild lands can be used to conserve the diversity of selected species.
c) Biobanks provide for the conservation of pollen, seeds, sperms, eggs, embryos, somatic cells, tissues, organs, etc., by various methods.
Ex situ conservation results in the cessation of biological evolution and so generally provides for the conservation of only the selected genotypes of a given time.
B. IN SITU CONSERVATION
a) Multi-use wild lands to conserve biodiversity in the form of biosphere reserves, national parks, sanctuaries, watersheds, protected landscape and ethnobiological reserves.
b) Conserved lands for genetic diversity and man-made wilderness areas to provide for the conservation of diversity in selected areas.
In situ conservation allows continued biological evolution and may influence changes in the component of biodiversity from time to time and hence it is conservation of an uncertain status.
14. SUSTAINABLE USE OF BIODIVERSITY
15. CONSERVATION OF BIODIVERSITY AS A MORAL ISSUE
Economic values play an important role in shaping most arguments in favour of conservation of biodiversity in different forms and approaches or in favour of development at the cost of biodiversity. An argument that conservation is a moral issue to be determined by a) the 'rights' of the other species in the ecosystems, b) the rights of indigenous people and minorities, and c) by our moral obligations to future generations in handing over the rich natural resource wealth as intact as possible, is often advanced. This implies that the conservation of biodiversity is an end in it self (Pearce and Moran, 1994) rather than the means to another end. In a number of situations, the moral view is not really opposed to the economic view. But often the confusion between the objectives of conservation vs development puts the governments in opposition to the environmentalists. Since conservation just for that sake is both scientifically impossible and impracticable, a better education, discussion and understanding of the issues involved in individual situations is the best means to avoid meaningless conflicts that result in a wastage of time. Timely action is the most basic approach to the problems.
Gupta (1999), Sinha and Sahai (1999) and Jayal (1999) have discussed the ethical issues related to biodiversity and its conservation, in a greater detail.
16. CONSERVATION OF PLANT DIVERSITY OF INDIA
It was estimated that there are about 1,25,000 species of all organisms in India and about 4,00,000 would probably discovered in the future (Gadgil, 1996). Of the 1,25,000 species, 85,000 are animals. There are about 18,000 species of angiosperms in the country. To this number, we have to add the species of algae, fungi, bryophytes, pteridophytes and gymnosperms, even if we exclude the bacteria. Obviously, the estimates of species numbers in India are on the far lower side. Thus, we do not have dependable estimates of the number of plant species in India. In addition, we are not certain as to what to conserve. Till all issues related to conservation are resolved, no meaningful conservation action is possible.
Khoshoo (1996) reviewed the problems and prospects of conservation of biodiversity in India and proposed setting up of a National Biodiversity Conservation Board, which reflects the fluidity of the situation.
17. INTERNATIONAL ORGANISATIONS FOR BIODIVERSITY CONSERVATION
A. IUCN--THE WORLD CONSERVATION UNION
The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources is the most important world body of 74 sovereign states, 105 government agencies, 674 non-governmental organisations and 32 affiliates, that is concerned with the conservation of nature world wide. The headquarters of the IUCN is situated at Gland, Switzerland. Any one who is interested in conservation should be aware of the activities of the IUCN, its organs and publications.
B. SPECIES SURVIVAL COMMISSION
The Species Survival Commission (SSC) is one of the six volunteer Commissions within the IUCN, with the mission to conserve biological diversity by developing and executing programmes to study, save, restore and manage wisely, the species and their habitats. SSC is the source of information for IUCN on the conservation of species. On behalf of the IUCN, the SSC delivers and promotes its knowledge, advice and policies to those who can influence the implementation of conservation action. The SSC has its headquarters at the IUCN in Switzerland.
a) Main goals of the SSC
The SSC has six main goals:
1. to assess the conservation status of and threats to species world wide, so as to generate recommendations and strategies;
2. to identify conservation priorities for species and their habitats;
3. to promote the implementation of specific recommended actions for the survival of species;
4. to develop and promote policies for the conservation of species and their habitats;
5. to enhance the efforts of individuals working on biodiversity conservation by linking them and providing access to an international forum; and
6. to promote an understanding of the importance of the conservation of species in the well-being of people.
b) Structure of the SSC
The SSC functions through a series of groups or Committees, under a ten-member Executive Committee giving an overall direction to the work. The Steering Committee with 40 members serves as focal point for particular regions or themes. The Plants sub-committee gives direction and guidance to the overall work of the Plant Specialists Groups
The bulk of about 7,000 members of SSC in 188 countries are in over 100 Specialist Groups and Task Forces, which are the heart of the SSC. For plants there are Specialist Groups such as Bamboo, Bryophyte, Carnivorous plants, Cycad, Conifer, Fungi, Medicinal plant, Orchid, pteridophyte, etc. The Medicinal Plant Specialist Group has published in 1997, the first volume of the Medicinal Plant Conservation Bibliography. There is an Indian Subcontinent Plant Specialist Group to deal with plant conservation issues in the Indian subcontinent that includes representatives from India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. Similarly there are specialist groups for various animal taxa. Many of these specialist groups also publish Newsletters and the SSC releases a biannual publication Species to inform members of the SSC of all the activities of the Commission.
c) Conservation activities of the SSC
The following is a summary of the Priority Conservation Activities of the SSC, as identified during 1997-98:
1. Understanding Conservation Science: a) the impact of global change on species; b) understanding the ecological impacts of species uses; c) explore the development of new management approaches and d) monitoring and evaluating SSC initiatives.
2. Supporting Conservation with Science: a) publishing the IUCN Red Lists of Threatened Animals and Plants; b) SSC conservation action plans to identify conservation status of species; and c) helping to ensure sustainability of uses of wild species.
3. Technical Tools of Conservation: a) tools for species conservation to assist natural resource managers, decision makers and others.
4. Managing and Sharing Species Information: a) biodiversity information management; and b) communicating conservation priorities.
5. Technology Transfer--Supporting Conservation Practitioners: training in use of conservation tools.
6. Supporting Implementation of International Agreements by working closely with a) Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), b) Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), c) Trade Records Analysis of Fauna and Flora in Commerce (TRAFFIC), d) Rosmar Convention, and e) Convention on Migratory Species (CMS).
7. Conserving Critical Ecosystems: a) conserving oceans and coasts, b) conserving freshwater ecosystems and c) conserving forests.
Space constraints prevent any more elaboration of the activities of the IUCN and SSC here, and any further information on these two organisations can be had from the respective offices, on request (see Websites and e-mail addresses, in Appendices 39 and 40).
C. CONVENTION ON BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY (CBD)
Another organisation, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), formed at a meeting in Rio de Jeneiro in 1992 and came into force, with a membership of 133 countries, in December 1993. CBD aims to protect the world's biological resources from further erosion or at least to slow that rate of erosion down. Till CBD came into force, living organisms were considered a common heritage of the humankind, but CBD accepts them as a sovereign property of the nation states. CBD is to promote conservation of biological diversity, a sustainable use of its components and equitable sharing of the resultant benefits. Thus there is a difference in the objectives of the IUCN and the CBD, though basically both strive to conserve the world's biological resources.
D. CONVENTION ON INTERNATIONAL TRADE IN ENDANGERED SPECIES OF WILD FLORA AND FAUNA (CITES)
CITES and SSC work in co-operation with each other. The SSC's Wildlife Trade Programme provides Parties to CITES and other governments and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) with objective and authoritative assessments of biological impacts resulting from commercial trade in endangered species. CITES has established the international legal framework for the prevention of trade in endangered species and for an effective regulation of trade in others. Member states respect the recommendations of CITES presented in CITES Appendices and implement restriction on the trade of the listed species. CITES Appendix I lists species that are threatened while Appendix II includes the species that may become threatened with extinction if trade is not regulated. Those in Appendix III are species that require watching. Depending upon the need, species may be shifted from one to another Appendix. The CITES Appendices are periodically reviewed, the latest being the outcome of the Tenth Conference of the Parties (all those concerned with trade, governments, NGOs, and conservation experts) in June 1997 in Harare. The recommendations of the meeting in 1999, have not yet been available.
E. TRADE RECORDS ANALYSIS OF FAUNA AND FLORA IN COMMERCE (TRAFFIC)
TRAFFIC is the body that monitors the volume of trade in endangered species and works in co-ordination with CITES and SSC, to assess the impact of trade, the objective being to manage trade sustainably.
F. WORLD WIDE FUND FOR NATURE (WWF)
World Wide Fund for Nature is the most publicised conservation organisation with centres in almost every country. There is one in India, WWF-India. For most part, the activities of WWF were concerned with the megafauna, but in recent times plants are getting some attention. In India, WWF-India has now launched programmes for conservation of medicinal plants.
18. AUTHENTIC REFERENCE DOCUMENTS ON BIODIVERSITY AND ITS CONSERVATION
A. RED LISTS OF THREATENED SPECIES
The IUCN separately publishes Red Lists of Threatened Animals and Plants to publicise information on the conservation status of species.
The Red Lists are the most comprehensive and authoritative global surveys of threatened species in existence. They identify taxa that are most threatened, thereby serving as tools to help to set priorities for conservation action and providing baseline information for monitoring status of taxa. The Red Lists provide a framework for more specific information about taxa under threat--such as national or regional lists and conservation strategies--and alert regions, nations, and communities to taxa of international conservation concern. The Red Lists are the technical resource to international legal instruments and are frequently used to create and strengthen national species protection Laws. Periodical revisions of these lists are issued from time to time.
The latest version of the Red List of Threatened Animals has been released in 1996 and another version is due in 1999.
The first ever IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants of 1997, containing 33,798 species names the threatened category, was released in April 1998, simultaneously from Washington, London, Canberra and Cape Town (Sowdowski, 1998). The listed species belong to 369 plant families and 200 countries. They constitute 12.5 per cent of known species of vascular plants. The publication of this list is a turning point in plant conservation. A compilation Red List for Indian species, from the IUCN list, has been published (Kameswara Rao, et al., 2003).
B. RED DATA BOOKS
Red Data Books of the IUCN provide in-depth analyses of the conservation status of particular groups of species. Earlier, Red Data Books cited 60,000 plant species as endangered. Certain situations of species make categorisation of their conservation status difficult. For example, the African Violets (Saintpaulia ionantha) are the most popular house plants throughout the world. But, a few years ago, an expedition found only three individuals in its wild habitat in Tanzania (Donellan, 1995). The species is certainly endangered in the wild but is abundant in cultivation. Similarly, the Indian Asoka tree (Saraca asoca) has definitely become rare in the wild but is a common avenue tree in many places in the country. Often, a distinction needs to be made between taxa that are threatened only in the wild habitats and those which are at total risk. Some species, such as Tribulus terrestris, which are under threat in one locality may be abundant in another.
Like several other countries in the world, Red Data Books have been published from India. Unfortunately, for plants the lists of threatened species have been based on the records of herbarium specimens of the concerned species, found in different herbaria in the country. This is an unscientific criterion as often the most abundant species comes to be sparsely represented in herbaria. The Indian Red Data Books have generally become suspect and questioned in International fora, as they were not based on valid criteria. Consequently we need to revise the Red Data Books of Plants in India on scientific methods. This work is now being carried out at the Indira Gandhi Conservation Monitoring Centre associated to the WWF-India, at New Delhi.
19. SYSTEM OF CATEGORIES OF THREATENED SPECIES
Species are assigned to different categories of threat basing on the degree of threat of extinction they face. Over a period of time a certain amount of confusion has crept in, in the use of the terms. The term Extinct has come to be used in a local context (instead of global) 'as the disappearance of a species from a given habitat or biota, not precluding subsequent re-colonisation from elsewhere' (Lincoln et al., 1982). The terms 'Endangered' and 'Threatened' have come to used interchangeably, a confusion that appears to be very wide spread, as the London Zoo Authorities have accused even the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) and the Born Free Foundation (BFF) of such confusion (Donellan, 1995). Aware of this situation, the SSC has reviewed the terminology and published the IUCN Red List Categories, the use of which is mandatory (Anonymous, 1994). The Red List of Threatened Animals of 1996 is totally according to these guidelines. Species (or subspecific taxa) facing any threat of extinction should be assigned to one of the following categories on the basis of detailed and specific criteria, given by the IUCN (Anonymous, 1994), which needs to be consulted for details.
A. If adequate data are available:
a) Extinct (EX): when there is no reasonable doubt that the last individual of the taxon has died.
b) Extinct in the Wild (EW): when a taxon is known only to survive in cultivation, well outside the past range.
i) Critically Endangered (CR): when a taxon is facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild in the immediate future.
ii) Endangered (EN): when a taxon is not critically endangered but is facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild in the near future.
iii) Vulnerable (VU): when a taxon is facing a high risk in the wild in the medium term future.
d) Lower Risk (LR): when it has been evaluated, does not satisfy the criteria of threat under the above mentioned categories.
i) Conservation Dependent (cd): when a taxon is the focus of a conservation programme, the cessation of the programme would place the taxon in the threatened categories.
ii) Near Threatened (nt): when a taxon does not qualify for conservation dependent, but which are close to qualifying for Vulnerable.
iii) Least Concern (lc): when a taxon does not qualify for Conservation Dependent, nor near Threatened.
B. Data Deficient (DD): when data are deficient to make an assessment of the risk of extinction a taxon faces.
II. Not Evaluated (NE): when a taxon has not yet been assessed against the criteria.
In the new approach, the old categories like Rare (R), Indeterminate (I) and Insufficiently known (K) have been dropped and the categories Threatened, Endangered and Vulnerable have been redefined. The following points are to be remembered:
a) the new categories are to be determined based on the detailed criteria provided by the IUCN (Anonymous, 1994),
b) criteria are applicable to any taxon at or below the level of the species alone,
c) a taxon need not meet all the criteria for being put in one of the categories,
d) Not Evaluated or Data Deficient qualification does not mean that the taxon is not under threat,
e) the criteria are quantitative,
f) conservation action is needed for some taxa even when not listed as threatened,
g) the category of threat is not necessarily sufficient to determine priorities for conservation,
h) the criteria are most appropriately applied at the global level,
i) when the criteria and categories are used in a national or a regional context, the global situation also should be given, till the IUCN developes guidelines for national and regional Red List categories,
j) the categorisation of taxa is not final and it needs to be reassessed periodically, and
k) taxa can be transferred from one category to another, if the reviewed situation warrants such a change.
Application of the new criteria of the IUCN will certainly show up that a very large number of the Indian plant species fall under one or the other category, but we do not have any solid quantitative data to support any such move right now. Hubbardia heptaneuron Bor (Poaceae) was collected for the first and the only time, and described, from the water-sprayed rocks under the Gerasoppa water falls in Karnataka in the early 1930s. A hydroelectric project involving the river has changed the habitat drastically and irreversibly and all subsequent efforts to collect this species, have failed. This species is now represented only by a couple of herbarium specimens deposited by the original author in the Herbarium of the Royal Botanic Garden at Kew, England. Almost certainly Hubbardia heptaneuron is now extinct (EX). Paphiopedilum druryi, an endemic Indian species, was first reported in 1865 and was not collected again till 1974, and once more in 1992 from the wild. This species falls under the category of Critically Endangered (ER). Most of the Indian taxa fall into either Data Deficient (DD) or Not Evaluated (NE), which does not mean that they are not at risk, but a very sad and inadequate situation from the scientific point of view.
The 1994 version of the structure of categories of threat to plants has been reviewed recently by the SSC Criteria Review Working Group (Anonymous, 1999), but it would take some time before the revised version is released for use.
CITES periodically reviews the situation of trade in threatened plants and animals and publishes lists of trade restricted species in three Appendices, the degree of restriction being most severe for those in the Appendix I. Some examples are given below:
Appendix I: Soussurea lappa
Appendix II: Cyathea species (tree ferns)
Appendix III: Mecanopsis regia
CITES and TRAFFIC provide the means for an international control of trade in the listed organisms but trade in them within a country is the responsibility of the respective Governments.
21. ACTS OF GOVERNMENT
Every country, based on the recommendations of the international organisations concerned with biodiversity and conservation, have enacted Laws to protect their biological resources. The following Acts of the Government of India are meant to regulate the natural resources:
a) The Indian Forest Act, 1927
Wildlife Protection Acts:
a) The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, as amended up to 1993
There are also Environment Protection Acts, and a Biodiversity Bill.
These Acts are the basis for the protection of the flora and fauna of the country. Within the framework of the legislation, 75 National Parks and 421 Wildlife Sanctuaries, which are the protected areas, have been organised in the country. Joshi (1993) and Tewari (1993) have provided the details of some of the preservation plots and protected areas in India. Unfortunately, the emphasis in these National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries is on the megafauna such as the tiger, lion, elephant, bison, etc. Plants have had a very raw deal. In fact, in some of the protected areas, damage to the vegetation by the inhabiting animals, is much more than in the area outside the protected premises. The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, in the amendment of 1991, listed only one gymnosperm and five angiosperms for protection, for the first time, that too in Schedule VI which affords the least protection (Mohanraj and Veenakumari, 1996). The fault lies not with the Government of India, but with the scientific community of the country which failed to impress upon the Government on the need for a rational, scientific and realistic approach to the issue.
We need to specify the areas and/or particular species to be protected. Before any habitats or plant species are recommended for inclusion in the Schedules of the Wildlife Protection Act, we should study the concerned species in detail, as once the stringent Laws clamp down protection on the habitats/species, no manipulative studies can be conducted on them.
We urgently need to draw up a list of plant species that require protection through legislation. In some western countries, nothing can be collected from notified areas and in some others collection of certain species is prohibited. Legislation should be made to provide such protection to selected habitats and species.
It is certainly not enough if a legislation is merely enacted. The public should also show awareness of the situation and be vigilant and participate in protecting the notified areas/species, as happens in the western countries. Probably it is too much to expect from a largely illiterate population and a self-centered and corrupt rest.
22. MONITORING BIODIVERSITY
Monitoring biodiversity means repeated recording with clear objectives, using a standardised approach and rules, not only for monitoring but also for stopping such recording. Monitoring biodiversity is a part of conservation packages. Procedures for monitoring have been discussed repeatedly (Goldsmith, 1991, 1993a, 1993b). The following aspects of monitoring were suggested to be priorised:
a) to record the integrity of sites such as nature reserves and national parks, a process called Site Integrity Monitoring;
b) to ensure that the quality of such sites is maintained (Site Quality Monitoring);
c) record the long term ecological effects of climatic change;
d) detect the effects of over-grazing, pollution, irrigation, salinisation, etc.;
e) record the changes in the numbers and distribution of species, particularly the rare ones, such as endemics, orchids, etc.; and
f) to keep a tally of richness or diversity of the biotopes which we value.
In England, the Nature Conservancy Council takes the help of the informed public who volunteer to make periodical and systematic record of the density of populations of species in the wild habitats. These records form the basis to assess the changes in the species density and distribution. This helps in monitoring biodiversity in terms of habitats and/or individual species. India being so vast in area and the number of species, needs such public support which can probably be drawn from high school or college students after imparting basic training. Such a suggestion, in a different context, was made by Gadgil (1996).
A Status Survey is needed to determine the conservation status and needs of individual species and habitats. A Survey is a one time recording. Surveillance is repeated surveys. Census is repeated recording of population densities of a single species including fluxes of births and deaths. Clearly a lot of planned work is involved in monitoring biodiversity.
Goldsmith (1993b) advocated that priorities should be established before rushing to monitor ecosystems and suggested the following:
a) Conservation evaluation: species of international importance take priority over those of national importance. These in turn take priority over those of regional importance which take priority over those of local importance;
b) Sensitivity: this reflects the inherent sensitivity of some species or biotopes and should take priority over more robust ones;
c) Vulnerability: this reflects the resilience of some species and biotopes to external forces such as desiccation, salinisation, over-grazing, pollution, etc.;
d) Simplicity: if the monitoring procedures are simple and easy to carry out, it is more likely to be conducted than otherwise. Also, it is more likely to be continued when staff change or funding becomes difficult; and
e) Cost effectiveness: inexpensive monitoring programmes are more likely to run until completion than expensive ones.
In order to evaluate the biotopes or species being studied, it is necessary to have extensive survey data for other comparable areas to set the target one in context. Estimates of man power and costs are important as also the techniques of gathering and recording data.
If we compare the global situation with that in India, the distressing and inescapable conclusion would be that we did not even make a beginning of understanding the magnitude of our biodiversity conservation problems.
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