Current Affairs - Biodiversity
A New Species ‘Impressive’ Tortoise Discovered
A team of herpetologists from the Forest Department and two NGOs found the Impressed Tortoise (Manouria impressa) in Lower Subansiri, Arunachal district a few days ago.
- An ‘impressed’ tortoise (Manouria impressa) has been found in Arunachal Pradesh. It is considered so beautiful that it has been named ‘impressed’.
- This is the first occurrence of this tortoise in India, taking the count of tortoise to five and the non-marine chelonian count to 29. Chelonian is an order of reptile that includes turtles, terrapins and tortoises.
Other species of tortoise:
- There are only two species of tortoises under the Manouria genus i.e. Asian Forest Tortoise and Impressed tortoise. India was known to be the home of only the Asian Forest Tortoise (Manouria emys) until the discovery of the Impressed Tortoise.
- The Asian Forest Tortoise is the largest in mainland Asia and is found only in the northeast in India.
Plantation Of Native Species In Bhubaneswar
Why is it in News?
Experts have urged the Bhubaneswar city administration to undertake plantation of native species which could withstand strong cyclonic winds in future.
How much did the trees suffer?
- Around 99% of trees had suffered damage when Cyclone Fani hit the city on May 3. About 6% trees were uprooted and 5% suffered complete damage. As high as 57% of trees were partially damaged.
- Although the fig plants like Ficus bengalensis and Ficus religiosa survived Fani’s fury, most of their branches were lost. Kadamba (Anthocephalus cadamba) trees suffered heavy loss in the cyclone.
- However, native species such as Karanja, Chhatiana, Nimba (Azadirachta indica), Bahada (Terminalia bellerica), Jamun (Jambul), Amba (mango) and Arjuna (terminalia) trees withstood the high wind speed and lost only 50% of their branches. These species should get priority when plantation would be undertaken in future.
DNA Database For Indian Rhino
Why is it in News?
The Union Environment Ministry has started a project to create DNA profiles of all rhinos in the country.
About the Project:
- By 2021, the project’s deadline, the Indian Rhino could be the first wild animal species in India to have all its members DNA-sequenced.
- The project is supported by World Wide Fund for Nature-India (WWF-India) and the Centre-funded Wildlife Institute of India (WII).
- The exercise would be useful in curbing poaching and gathering evidence in wildlife crimes involving rhinos.
- There are three species of rhinos, of which only one — the Indian rhino — is found in the country. There are about 2,600 rhinos in India, with more than 90% of the population concentrated in Assam’s Kaziranga National Park.
World Wide Fund for Nature:
- It is an international organization founded in 1961 which is committed to conservation of the environment.
- Today its mission statement is threefold:
- oTo conserve the world’s biological diversity.
- oTo ensure that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable.
- oTo promote the reduction of pollution and of wasteful consumption.
- The WWF provides money for conservation initiatives around the world. These include programs focused on individual species, forests, and freshwater and marine issues as well as climate change and responsible international trade.
- The WWF works closely with the World Conservation Union and has formed partnerships with the United Nations, the World Bank, and the European Union.
- It also seeks cooperation between nongovernmental organizations, local governments, and local populations.
Wildlife Institute of India:
- Situated in Dehradun, India, WII is a government institution run by the Indian Council on Forestry Research and Education which trains wildlife managers and wildlife researchers.
- Started in 1982, WII offers training programs and courses in wildlife research and management.
New Parasitic Plant
Why is it in News?
An orchid, which is a variant of a Japanese orchid, has been found in Assam which is a mycoheterotroph.
Parasitic plants are those plants which obtain complete or a part of their nutrition from other plants. It is broadly divided into two groups namely:
- i.Mycoheterotrophs- It is a symbiotic relationship between certain kinds of plants and fungi, in which the plant gets all or part of its food from parasitism upon fungi rather than from photosynthesis.
- A mycoheterotroph is the parasitic plant partner in this relationship. Mycoheterotrophy is considered a kind of cheating relationship and mycoheterotrophs are sometimes informally referred to as "mycorrhizal cheaters". An example is Orchids.
- ii.Haustorial plants- It is those plants which obtain their nutrients from another plant via a modified roots called as “Haustorium”.
- This plant penetrates the host plant's cell wall and siphon nutrients from the space between the cell wall and plasma membrane. An example is Dodder.
Insectivorous Plants/ Carnivorous Plants:
- Carnivorous plants are plants that derive some or most of their nutrients (but not energy) from trapping and consuming animals or protozoan, typically insects and other arthropods.
- Carnivorous plants generally grow in places having high light and where the soil is thin or poor in nutrients, especially nitrogen.
What is the Cause of this Evolution?
- Most carnivorous plants live in habitats with high light, waterlogged soils, and extremely low soil nitrogen and phosphorus, producing the ecological impetus to derive nitrogen from an alternate source.
- High light environments allowed for the trade-off between photosynthetic leaves and prey capturing traps that are inefficient in photosynthesis. To compensate for the inefficient material, the nutrients obtained through carnivore would need to increase photosynthesis by investing in more leaf mass, i.e. growing.
- This means when there is a shortage of nutrients and enough light and water, prey capture and digestion has the greatest impact on photosynthetic gains, favoring the evolution of plant adaptations which allowed for more effective and efficient carnivory.
Why is it in News?
A Conservator of forests has discovered ‘Lecanorchis taiwaniana’ in Assam, which is the smallest orchid in terms of size and duration of bloom to be recorded ever botanically.
About the Discovery:
- Precise identification of the ‘Lecanorchis’ species is often difficult due to short duration of flowering periods and close similarities in morphology.
- The new species appeared close to the nigricans species while bearing 90% resemblance with the taiwaniana species named after Taiwan.
- Detailed morphological study revealed that this unknown species can be considered as Lecanorchis taiwaniana.
- The discovery of Lecanorchis taiwaniana has added to the orchid wealth of northeast India, which has 800 of some 1,300 species in the country. Nearly 300 species are found in the Western Ghats and 200 in the northwestern Himalayas.
- Lecanorchis are terrestrial, leafless myco-heterotrophs (formerly called saprophytes).
- They contains over 30 species distributed across a large geographic range that includes China, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, New Guinea, the Pacific Islands, the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam.
- The orchid, discovered earlier in Japan, Taiwan, and Laos, was found to have a maximum height of 40 cm and a blossoming period of five-six days.
- They produce numerous, long, thick, horizontal roots under a short rhizome and bear dull brown, purple, yellow or green flowers with a somewhat brighter lip which is covered with dense, yellow hair.
Why is it in News?
Purple Frog is soon to be honored as Kerala’s state frog.
About the Species:
- It is a rheophilic frog i.e. it survives in running water. It is endemic to the Western Ghats.
- It has been evolving independently for around 100 million years. Hence, it is an excellent example of Living Fossils.
- It is listed as ‘Endangered’ as per the IUCN Red List.
- It is also known as Maveli Frog or Pignose Frog.
- It is threatened due to deforestation from expanding cultivation, in addition to consumption and harvesting by local communities.
- Earlier they were confined only to Palghat Gap of Western Ghats, but now is seen all across the Western Ghats.
- Palakkad Gap or Palghat gap is a mountainous gap present in between the Nilgiri hills and the Anaimalai Hills of Southern Hill Complex.
- Shenkota gap is present in the Cardamom Hills.
- Nilgiri, Anaimalai, Palani Hills and Cardamom Hills are collectively called as the ‘Southern Hill Complex”.
- Southern Hill Complex is neither a part of the Western Ghats nor a part of the Eastern gGhats.
Source: TH, G. C. Leong
Why is it in News?
Indian Bullfrog has become invasive in Andaman & Nicobar Islands.
Relevance to Prelims 2019:
In UPSC 2018, question was asked on invasive species ‘Prosopis juliflora (Videshi Kikar)’, so this new species becomes important from prelims perspective and a question was also asked on ‘Barren Island Volcano’. Andaman & Nicobar has been frequently seen in the news, therefore this segment becomes important from prelims perspective.
About Indian Bullfrog (Hoplobatrachus tigerinus):
- They are found in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Myanmar, Afghanistan, and Sri Lanka. They are also found in the Maldives and Madagascar.
- They prefer freshwater wetlands and aquatic habitats. Generally they avoid coastal and forest areas.
- It was introduced in India's Andaman Islands in 2000, where it is now a widespread invasive species. It eats native fishes and lizards which is threatening the endemic species of the Andaman Islands.
- IUCN status- Least concern
What is an Invasive Species?
- As per Convention on Biological Diversity, "An invasive alien species (IAS) is a species that is established outside of its natural past or present distribution, whose introduction and/or spread threaten biological diversity”.
- An invasive species can be any kind of living organism – an amphibian, plant, insect, fish, fungus, bacteria, or even an organism’s seeds or eggs - that are not native to an ecosystem and may cause harm. Mainly, the species that grow and reproduce quickly, and spread aggressively, with potential to cause harm, are given the label “invasive.”
Andaman & Nicobar Islands:
- Andaman and Nicobar islands is a set of 572 islands out of which 36 are inhabited. It is situated between 6 degree & 14 degree latitude and hence it receives rainfall from both South-west Monsoon & North-east Monsoon.
- Andaman & Nicobar Islands are extension of Purvanchal ranges and are thus not of Coral origin as that of Lakshwadeep.
- Barren Island is an island located in the Andaman Sea, dominated by Barren Volcano, the only confirmed active volcano in South Asia.
- Great Channel separates Nicobar Island with Sumatra.
- Ten Degree channel separates Andaman & Nicobar Islands.
Tribes Present in A&N Islands:
There are four ‘Negrito’ tribes in the Andaman Islands - Great Anadamanese, Jarawa, Onge and Sentinels and two ‘Mongoloid’ tribes in the Nicobar Islands - Nicobarese & Shompen.
Source: TH, India Year Book 2019
Why is it in News?
Three Indian Vultures were found dead in Bejjur Forest range of Telangana.
- The Indian Vulture (Gyps indicus) is an old world vulture native to India, Pakistan and Nepal. It has been listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ on the IUCN Red List since 2002, as the population severely declined.
Cause of Decline in the Population:
- Vultures usually act as scavengers, i.e. they feed on the carcass of animals. A drug called ‘Diclofenac’ was given to animals / cattles to increase their strength, relieve pain and increase milk production. When the vultures fed on the carcass of the animals injected with Diclofenac, it led to the renal failure of the Vultures leading to decline in their population exponentially.
If Diclofenac led to the killing of Vultures, why is it used?
Government came with an alternative - Meloxicam, but since it is costlier, people generally inject the cattles with Diclofenac instead of Meloxicam.
IUCN Status of other Vultures:
Slender Billed Vultures, White Rumped Vultures & Indian Vultures are listed as ‘Critically Endangered.’
- The Cinereous Vulture (Aegypius monachus) is a large raptorial bird that is distributed through much of Eurasia.
- It is also known as the black vulture, monk vulture, or Eurasian black vulture.
- It generally occupies forests, grasslands and shrub lands.
- During winters, it migrates from mountainous region of Europe to Asia (including India).
- It is listed as ‘Near Threatened’ in the IUCN Red List and is present in Appendix II of CITES.
Why is it in News?
Due to forest fires, scientists are skeptical about the blooming of Neelakurinji in the next cycle.
- Kurinji or Neelakurinji (Strobilanthes kunthianus) is a shrub that is found in the Shola forests of the Western Ghats in South India.
- Nilgiri Hills, which literally means the blue mountains, got their name from the purplish blue flowers of Neelakurinji that blossoms only once in 12 years.
- It grows at an altitude of 1300 to 2400 metres.
- Besides the Western Ghats, Neelakurinji is also seen in the Shevroys in the Eastern Ghats.
- The Paliyan tribal people living in Tamil Nadu use it as a reference to calculate their age.
The Shola Forest:
- ‘Sholas’ is the local name for patches of stunted tropical montane forest found in valleys amid rolling grassland in the higher montane regions of South India (Tamil Nadu, Kerala & Karnataka).
- These patches of shola forests are found mainly in the valleys and are usually separated from one another by undulating montane grassland.
Distribution of Shola Forest in India:
Shola forests are found in the higher elevation hill regions of the Nilgiris, Anaimalai, Munnar, Palani hills, Meghamalai, Agasthyamalai to the south and the Malnad and associated ranges in parts of Wayanad, Coorg, Baba Budhangiri hills and Kudremukh up the north, in the states of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
Shevroy Hills of Eastern Ghats:
- Shevaroy Hills is named after the local deity Servarayan in Tamil Nadu.
- Shevaroy Hills is a towering mountain range (1620 m) near the city of Salem, in Tamil Nadu. It is one of the major hill stations in Tamil Nadu and in the Eastern Ghats.
Why is it in News?
Indian Sundarbans was accorded the status of ‘Wetland of International Importance’ under the Ramsar Convention in January 2019. Also, Sundarbans is constantly in news for tiger habitats facing extinction.
About Sunderban Wetlands:
- The Sundarbans is a mangrove area which is formed mainly by the confluence of Ganga, Meghna and Brahamputra River in the Bay of Bengal.
- It spreads from Hooghly River in West Bengal to Baleshwar River in Bangladesh.
- Indian Sundarbans constitutes over 60% of the country’s total mangrove forest area.
- It is the 27th Ramsar Site in India, and with an area of 4,23,000 hectares, it is now the largest protected wetland in the country.
- India has 40% of the total Sundarban region while 60% of the Sundarban region lies in Bangladesh.
- The Indian Sundarbans, also a UNESCO world heritage site, is home to the Royal Bengal Tigers.
- The part of the Sundarban delta, which lies in Bangladesh, was accorded the status of a Ramsar site in 1992.
How did Indian Sundarbans qualify for the Ramsar list?
- Out of the 9 criterion prescribed by the Ramsar list, sites must satisfy at least 4 criterion to get listed.
- The Indian Sundarbans met four of the nine criteria required for the status of ‘Wetland of International Importance’ - presence of rare species and threatened ecological communities, biological diversity, significant and representative fish and fish spawning ground and migration path.
What will be the Benefits of this Status?
- The part of the Sundarban delta, which lies in Bangladesh, was accorded the status of a Ramsar site in 1992, and with Indian Sundarbans getting it too, international cooperation between the two countries for the protection of this unique ecosystem will increase.
- This could lead to a better synergy in the conservation for flagship species such as the tiger and the northern river terrapin.
Is there any threat to the Sundarban Wetlands?
- Over 4 million people live in the vicinity of that ecosystem; this has led to the undue pressure on the Sundarbans.
- Excessive fishing & aquaculture is the other major threat to the wetland ecosystem of that region.
- Drilling for oil & gas, fredging etc. are other major concerns for this region.
Some Salient Species Endemic to Sundarbans:
- The Indian Sundarbans is home to the Royal Bengal Tigers.
- The Indian Sundarbans is also home to a large number of rare and globally threatened species, such as the critically endangered northern river terrapin (Batagur Baska), the endangered Irrawaddy Dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris), and the vulnerable Fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus).
The Ramsar Convention:
- The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands is an intergovernmental treaty which provides for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. It was signed in 1971 in Iran but came into force in 1975.
- The Ramsar Convention is the only global environment treaty dealing with a particular ecosystem.
- Montreaux Record is a register of wetland sites of international importance where changes in ecological character have occurred or are occurring or likely to occur in the future due to pollution or other human interference.
- It is maintained as a part of the Ramsar list.