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Book Review

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Climate change and biodiversity conservation


BIODIVERSITY CONSERVATION — An Antidote to Climate Change: C.H. Basappanavar; Vanasuma Prakashana, 1511 SHREEM, 5 {+t} {+h} Cross, Judicial Layout, GKVK P.O., Bangalore-560065. Rs. 1250.

The book, unmistakably a labour of love for the author, is a detailed study of the biodiversity of two national parks, Nagarahole and Bandipur, in Karnataka. The floral and faunal distribution, ecological setting, and the similarities and variations between the two are well documented and highlighted through tables, photographs, and satellite imagery. All of this covers 150 pages. But a chunk of the book — the first 92 pages — is, sadly, a hackneyed narration of the global climate change crisis interspersed with activist rhetoric like “Greening the Earth to Prevent Red”.

Going by the way climate change and biodiversity conservation have been treated, the title is somewhat misleading. Although the author, Basappanavar, asserts that the two are intertwined — which, in fact, they are — there is little attempt to examine how climate change would affect, or has already affected, the country's biodiversity in general and the two study areas in particular. More importantly, how conservation of biodiversity will help mitigate the adverse effects of climate change has not been gone into in any scientific detail. Thus, the two parts of the book stand disjointedly, and this deficiency perhaps may be addressed in a revised edition. Enough published material is available — on the impact of climate change on India's forests over the last hundred years, on what may happen to them as a result of rising temperatures, and on global initiatives like REDD (Reduction in Deforestation and Degradation) and India's REDD+ (REDD PLUS) proposal — for the author to draw from.

Wealth of information

These shortcomings and sweeping statements aside, the book provides a wealth of information on Nagarahole and Bandipur. The two parks forming a contiguous geographical area in the southern part of the Western Ghats are an interesting study at once in similarity and in contrast. The average annual rainfall of Nagarahole is 1,389 mm, whereas Bandipur receives 400 mm less. Mean annual temperatures are, however, the same (22.67ºC). These two factors may well explain the differing relative extents of forest ecotypes in the two parks.

The higher rainfall of Nagarahole accounts for its higher percentage of Moist Deciduous Forest (44 per cent) compared to only 10.66 per cent in Bandipur. In consequence, the Dry Deciduous forest area is much more (67.05 per cent) in Bandipur than in Nagarahole (41 per cent). The higher rainfall, as the author says, also accounts for the floristic richness of Nagarahole, which, in turn, may explain its higher densities of large herbivores and their predators. This establishes the “eco-biological” relationship of rainfall regime governing total bio-volume and the herbaceous biomass, which, in turn, determines herbivorous prey base and predator populations.

Optimal habitats

An interesting conclusion Basappanavar draws is that the two parks are in a near “bio-equilibrium” state and may well be described as “optimal habitats” for large herbivores. That this is so despite heavy human pressures renders it all the more important to keep them in that state. This, indeed, is a challenge to the authorities manning the two parks. It emerges that the utilisation of the “carrying capacity” is already at its maximum in both parks. Hence practices like grazing by cattle from outside and diversion of land for non-forest purposes have to be curbed severely.

Promotion of tourism (in today's parlance “eco-tourism”) has to be consistent with these imperatives. As the author observes, “Eco-tourism in India has become almost synonymous with overcrowding, polluting, littering…” Overemphasis on eco-tourism in these two parks — in any nature reserve, for that matter — is bound to be counterproductive. Also, issues related to the settling of the so-called “forest dwellers” permanently in areas rich in wildlife should be subjected to a critical appraisal.

Basappanavar may well include in his study the Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve, which is contiguous to what has been covered, so that one could have a grand picture of the fascinating forest ecosystems of the southern part of the Western Ghats. With his knowledge and vast experience, he should be able to do it. India's forests and national parks deserve a lot of scientific nurturing for all the goods, services, and aesthetic pleasure they provide for its people and foreign visitors alike.

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