Biodiversity can be conserved in two main ways, in-situ conservation and ex-situ conservation.
Way # 1. In-Situ Conservation Strategies:
In-situ or on site conservation is conservation of wild animals and plants in their natural habitat. The aim of in-situ conservation is to allow the population to maintain or perpetuate itself within the community environment, to which it is adapted. In-situ conservation is the ideal method of conserving wild plant genetic resources. In-situ conservation of plant genetic resources presents a number of advantages as compared to ex-situ conservation.
Advantages of In-Situ Conservation of Plant Resources:
a. It enables the conservation of a large range of potentially interesting alleles.
b. This method is especially suitable for species, which cannot be established or regenerated outside the natural habitats.
c. This method allows natural evolution to continue because of the existence of variation.
d. It facilitates research on species in their natural habitats.
e. It assures protection of other species that are dependent on the species under consideration.
Methods of In-Situ Conservation:
In-situ conservation is done by providing protection to biodiversity rich areas through a network of protected areas. In India, the protected areas are of the following kinds – national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, biosphere reserves and ecologically fragile and sensitive areas. A protected area network of 85 national parks and 448 wildlife sanctuaries has been created. The results of this network have been significant in restoring viable population of large mammals such as tiger, lion, rhinoceros, crocodiles and elephants.
The main advantages and features of protected areas are as follows:
a. The genetic diversity of all species inhabiting an area can be conserved.
b. Species can be maintained in their natural habitat.
c. In protected areas, human intervention is minimal.
d. Pollution and poaching in the protected area can be checked.
Eco-development programmes involving local communities have been initiated recently for sustained conservation of ecosystems. The economic needs of the local communities are taken care under this programme through provision of alternative sources of income and a steady availability of forest and related products.
Programmes have also been launched for scientific management and wise use of wetlands, mangroves and coral reef ecosystems. Twenty-one wetlands and mangrove areas and four coral reef areas have been identified for intensive conservation and management purposes.
Six significant wetlands of India have been declared as ‘Ramsar Sites’ under the Ramsar Convention. Under the World Heritage Convention, five natural sites have been declared as ‘World Heritage Sites’.
A national park is a reserve of land, usually owned by a national government. It is a tract of land, which is declared public property to preserve and develop for the purpose of recreation and culture. It is protected from human development activities and pollution. National parks are protected areas of IUCN category II.
There are 10 existing national parks in India covering an area of 38,024.10 km2, which is 1.16% of the geographical area of the country. Yellowstone National Park in California was established as the world’s first protected area. The first national park in India was Hailey National Park, now known as Jim Corbett National Park, established in the year 1935.
Silent Valley – A Success Story:
Silent Valley National Park is a small National park in Palakkad district, Kerala, India. It is located in the Kundali Hills of the Western Ghats. The park is called the ‘silent valley’ because of the absence of the noisy insects, cicadas. The forest however echoes with the sounds of teeming wildlife.
The national park is rich in biodiversity, where new plant and animal species are being discovered every year. Many rare bird species are found, such as the Great Indian hornbill, Ceylon frogmoth and the Nilgiri laughing thrush. The lion tailed macaque is also found here. There is valuable resource of herbs and rare paints.
The silent valley is a storehouse of medicinal plants. It is also a valuable source of important genetic variants. Large mammals such as the tiger, elephant, sloth bear and wild boar are also found in the fringes of the forests. The valley harbours 211 bird species and many varieties of butterflies and moths.
The valley’s most famous resident is the lion tailed macaque, which is endangered because of habitat fragmentation, reduced habitat size, isolation of population leading to inbreeding depression and vulnerability to random events.
In the late 1970 and early 1980, the park became the focal point of India’s fiercest environmental debate when the Kerala state electricity board decided to build a dam across the river Kunthi that runs through the valley. The silent valley ecosystem has since then been under a long-term conservation programme.
In 1973, the Hydroelectric Project across the river was sanctioned. But there was a lot of resistance against the project. The project was dropped due to concern about its impact on the environment and endangered species. Nongovernmental organisations like the Kerala Shastra Sahitya Parishad led the conservation movement with the help of street plays, dramas, meetings, etc. The daily newspaper, The Hindu and The Mathrubhoomi supported the cause of conservation of the tropical forests. Botanists and zoologists who used to trek the valley in search of rare species also supported the cause.
Dr. Salim Ali, Dr. Parthasarathy from World Wildlife Fund for nature and many well-known personalities joined the movement. Nature lovers, International organisations such as the IUCN and WWF, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, the then prime minister and Dr. Swaminathan helped in taking up the cause politically.
Finally in 1983 the project was abandoned and the valley was declared as a National Park, which was inaugurated by Mr. Rajiv Gandhi in 1985. It is interesting to think of how the government was forced to bow down to the people’s opinion. The literacy and progressive attitude of the people in Kerala must have played a major role in the success of the campaign.
A sanctuary is a reserved area for the protection of wildlife. Collection of forest products, cutting trees for timber are allowed provided they do not affect the animals. There are 448 existing wildlife sanctuaries in India. Another 217 sanctuaries are proposed in the Protected Area Network report.
Biosphere reserves are protected areas meant for preserving genetic diversity in the various biomes. The concept of biosphere reserves has been evolved by UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere programme or MAB. In the year 1976, the Man and Biosphere programme identified about 57 biosphere reserves. The numbers of such areas have increased since then.
The biosphere reserve has concentric areas zoned for different use.
a. The core zone is the innermost zone devoted to preserve biodiversity with no human interference.
b. Around the core zone there is the buffer zone in which some settlement and resource use is allowed. In this area, variety of educational programmes and research activities are carried out, such as identification of endangered species, artificial propagation of species, and application of tissue culture techniques to enable rapid multiplication of threatened species.
c. The outermost zone is the transition zone where sustainable development activities are permitted. This is an area of interaction between the biosphere reserve management and the local people. Here activities such as forestry, recreation, cropping, etc. are permitted (Fig. 4).
These reserves aim at conserving the biological diversity and genetic integrity of plants, animals and microorganisms in their totality as part of the natural ecosystems. There are approximately 400 biosphere reserves in 94 countries. The list of biosphere reserves in India is given in Table 6.
According to Norman Myers, hot spots are areas that are extremely rich in species, have high endemism, and are under constant threat. Biological hot spots include the Western Amazon (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru), Madagascar, North and Eastern Borneo, North Eastern Australia, West Africa, and the Brazilian Atlantic forest. All of these areas have high biodiversity and many are threatened by human activities.
Of the 25 hot spots in the world, two are located in India extending into the neighbouring countries. They are the Western Ghats and the Indo-Burma region that covers the Eastern Himalayas. These areas are particularly rich in floral wealth and endemism, especially flowering plants. Reptiles, amphibians, swallow-tailed butterflies, and some mammals are also found here.
a. Eastern Himalayas:
The Eastern Himalayas located in the North Eastern India is a region rich in species diversity and endemism. But due to human intervention the forest cover in the Eastern Himalayas has dwindled from 340,000 sq. km to 110,000 sq. km. Despite this loss, the North-Eastern region is home to some botanical rarities. One of these is the Sapria himalayana, a parasitic angiosperm that has been sighted only twice since 1836. The primitive angiosperm genera are Alnus, Magnolia, Betula, etc.
b. Western Ghats:
There are two main centres of diversity in the Western Ghats, the Agastyamalai hills and the Silent Valley and New Amambalam reserve basin. The forest cover has declined between 1972 and 1985 at a rate of loss of over 2.4% annually.
Sacred Forests and Lakes:
Sacred forests or groves are small patches of forests, which are conserved through man’s spiritual belief and faith. In India, sacred groves are found in Khasi and Jaintia hills of Meghalaya, Aravalli hills of Rajasthan, Western Ghat regions of Karnataka and Maharashtra and the Sarguja, Chanda and Bastar areas of Madhya Pradesh. Many plant species are found in this forest belonging to 183 genera and 84 families.
The protection of whole communities as sacred ponds and groves is a remarkable feature of the Indian subcontinent.
Some prominent examples are listed below:
a. One of the most widespread of the traditions in India is the protection given to trees of the genus Ficus, which are found in the countryside and are often the only large trees in the midst of towns and cities. They are considered by biologists as ‘keystone species’ serving as food source at times of need for other frugivores.
b. The pipal tree (Ficus religiosa) has had a conspicuous position in the cultural landscape of North India and human collective memory for more than 5,000 years.
c. For Hindus, the Bel tree, Aegle marmelos, is associated with Lord Shiva, tulasi with Lord Vishnu, and fig (Ficus glome rata) with Lord Dattatreya, the son of Trimurty and the kadamba tree is likened to Lord Krishna.
d. In many villages of South India, there are no temples. The Gramdevata or village goddess may be a big tree located in the village.
e. Khecheopalri Lake is considered as one of the sacred lakes both by the Buddhist and the Hindus. The lake remains hidden in the rich forest cover and the aquatic flora and fauna are naturally preserved.
But due to the fast-changing society framework and mindset of the younger generation, the belief associated with the forests has been diluted. The forest cover is subject to degradation due to clearing of forests and there is an urgent need to preserve the forest. Thus, to save the sacred forests there is a need for conservation programmes with the help of local administration and NGOs.
Way # 2. Ex-Situ Conservation Strategies:
Ex-situ conservation is the conservation of plants and animals in locations outside their natural habitats. It includes collection and conservation of species in specific locations such as botanical gardens, zoos, safari parks, aquaria, and in institutes such as gene banks.
Offsite Conservation of Species:
Many species of plant species are conserved in botanical gardens and arboreta. Arboreta are gardens with trees and shrubs. Seed banks and tissue culture facilities in the offsite areas have helped in conserving many specimens.
Captive breeding of animals in zoos have increased the number of endangered species and saved them from extinction. The ultimate aim of captive breeding programme is the re-introduction of animals into their natural wild habitat.
Gene Bank Conservation:
Gene banks are places that conserve the germplasm.
According to the nature of the germplasm, they may of the following types:
a. Seed banks are places where viable seeds are stored.
b. Orchards are places where specific plants are grown in large numbers.
c. Tissue culture labs are laboratories where callus, embryoids, pollen grains and shoot tip culture are carried out for plants that are seedless or that have recalcitrant seeds. Tissue culture is particularly useful in rapid multiplication of endangered species, maintaining genotypes in small areas, production of virus free shoots and growing plants such as banana that can propagate only vegetatively.
d. Cryopreservation is the storage in liquid nitrogen at -196°C. This technique is a useful technique for preserving vegetatively propagated crops such as potato, seeds of plants and for preserving sperms, eggs, cells and embryonic tissues of animals for the conservation of genetic diversity.
The seeds of many plant species remain viable longer when moisture is reduced and stored at low temperature. But the seeds must be germinated periodically in order to obtain fresh seeds. This method ensures protection and conservation of rare species.
Protection of Endangered Species:
Special projects have been launched to protect selected species which face the danger of extinction.
Some important examples are listed below:
a. Project tiger
b. Gir lion project
c. Crocodile breeding project
d. Conservation of rhinoceros and snow leopard.
Non-Government Organisations Involved in Conservation of Biodiversity in India:
Several non-governmental organisations are dedicated actively in the conservation of flora and fauna.
Important NGOs involved are listed below:
a. Wildlife Preservation Society of India, Dehradun
b. Bombay Natural History Society
c. World Wildlife Fund (WWF), India
Convention of Biodiversity and Policies for Conservation:
The convention on Biological Diversity was held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. It was signed by 157 states and the European community. It came into force on 29 December 1993.
The objectives of the convention are:
a. Conservation of biodiversity
b. Sustainable use of its components
c. Fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources.
A follow up, the World summit on sustainable development was held in 2002 in Johannesburg, South Africa. In total, 190 countries pledged their commitment to achieve a significant reduction in the current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional and local levels.