India as a Mega Diversity Nation

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A mega-diverse country is one that harbors the majority of the Earth’s species and is therefore considered extremely biodiverse. India is rich in biodiversity from north to south and from east to west. India contains many species that world’s gone country have. It has 14 major basins through which drain numerous rivers. The annual rainfall varies from less than 37 cm in Rajasthan to 1500m in Cherapunji. The country experiences three different seasons – winter, summer, and monsoons. It has two global terrestrial biodiversity hot spots – the North-eastern States and the Western Ghats. The Western Ghats have moist deciduous forests and rainforests. The region shows high species diversity as well as high levels of endemism. Around 62% of reptile and 77% of amphibians are found in here. The North-eastern States depicts high altitudinal variations. This area has at least 163 globally threatened species like one-horned rhinoceros and the wild Asian water buffalo. The Relict Dragonfly, an endangered species found here. This zone houses the Himalayan Newt the only salamander species found within Indian limits.

The great variety of ecological conditions prevailing in India, tropical location, climate and physical features all aid in supporting an enormous diversity of wildlife, including, hot desert forms, like wild ass and the cold desert forms, like the Tibetan antelope: animals of open scrubland, like the black buck and of grassy swamps, like the rhinoceros; animals of the deciduous forests like the wild gaur and of the tropical rainforests, like the lion-tailed macaque. India’s bio-geographical composition is unique as it combines living forms from three major bio-geographical realms, namely – Eurasian, Agro-Tropical, and Indo-Malayan. India lies at the confluence of Ethiopian, Palaearctic, and Indo-Malayan faunas and possesses some interesting components. The chinkara, the hyena, and the rates represent the Ethiopian element; the lynx, wolf, hangul represent the Palaearctic; the Chinese by red panda and the musk-deer; the Indo-Malayan by the hoolock gibbon, the goat-antelope, and the mouse deer. The endemic varieties include sloth bear, antelope or black buck, four-horned antelope and Boselaphus or nilgai.

15,000 species of flowering plants, 53,430 species of insects; 5050 species of mollusks, 6,500 species of other invertebrates; 2,546 species of fishes; 1228 species of birds, 446 species of reptiles, 372 species of mammals and 204 species of amphibians have been identified. India’s biodiversity is estimated to be over 45,000 plant species representing about 7% of the world’s flora and India stands tenth in 25 most plant-rich countries of the world. Its variety of animal life represents 6.5 per cent of world’s fauna. Being one of the oldest and largest agriculture societies, India has at least 166 species of crop plants and 320 species of wild relatives of cultivated crops. The vegetation ranges from xerophytic in Rajasthan, evergreen in the North-East and the Ghat areas, mangroves of coastal regions, conifers of the hills and the dry deciduous forests of central India to alpine pastures in the high reaches of the Himalaya. The forests India have been classified into 16 types and 251 subtypes by climatic and edaphic conditions. The country has many alternative medicines, like Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathic systems that are mainly prepared from plant-based raw materials. Herbal preparations for pharmaceutical and cosmetic purposes form part of the traditional biodiversity uses in India.

It has great marine diversity due to its 7500km long coastline. The near shore coastal waters of India are extremely rich fishing grounds. The marine environment of India supports coral reefs in the Gulf of Kutch, off the southern mainland coast, and around some islands opposite Sri Lanka. Indian coral reefs’ resources are of high commercial value. On the Gulf of Mannar and Gulf of Kutch reefs corals, coral debris and coral sands are widely exploited, and ornamental shells, sharks, and pearl oysters are the basis of an important reef industry in the south of India. Five species of marine turtle occur in Indian waters: Green turtle Chelonia mydas, Loggerhead Caretta caretta, Olive RidleyLepidochelys olive, Hawksbill Eretmochelys imbricate, and Leatherback Dermochelys coriacea. Seagrass beds are important feeding areas for the  Dugong dugon, plus several species of marine turtle.

To preserve the rich biodiversity, nine biosphere reserves have been set up in specific biogeographic” zones: the biggest being in the Deccan Peninsula in the Nilgiris covering Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka. Others include the Nanda Devi in Uttarakhand in the Western Himalayas, the Nokrek in Meghalaya, Manas, and Dibru Saikhowa in Assam, the Sunderbans in the Gangetic plain in West Bengal, Similar in Orissa, the Great Nicobar and the Gulf of Mannar in Tamil Nadu. As per satellite imaging, about 19 percent of the land area of the country comprise of forests. It has 80 national parks at present, which houses the largest number of tigers and one-horned rhinos found in the world, Asiatic lions and a large percent of elephants. Six significant wetland areas 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.”

There is a vital, but often neglected factor when we focus on biodiversity. It may be a matter of surprise to understand that the tribal people who officially constitute 7.5 percent of India’s population have preserved around 90 percent of the country’s biocultural diversity. To a large extent, the survival of our biodiversity depends on how best the tribal are looked after.

India accredited the International Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) on 18 February 1994 and became Party to the Convention in May 1994. The CBD is an international legal instrument for fostering conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from commercial and other utilization of genetic resources. It is the responsibility of The Ministry of Environment and Forest in India to oversee environmental policy and procedures and the administration of the national parks of the country as well. India has worked on creating ‘landscape conversion’ that include wildlife reserves, communal forest, and some private lands.

All these factors and many more is the reason behind why India is called a mega biodiversity center and makes it one of the seventeen mega biodiversity countries of the world.

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