Browsing Category

Science

Nature, Science

Multiple threats to Himalayan biodiversity

The Indian Himalayas, which constitute about 12% of the country’s landmass, is home to about 30.16% of its fauna, says a new publication from the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI).

The publication, Faunal Diversity of Indian Himalaya, lists 30,377 species/subspecies in the region with the entire identified fauna in the country adding up to 1,00,762.

Spread across six States — from Jammu and Kashmir in the west through Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and West Bengal’s Darjeeling to Arunachal Pradesh in the far east —the Indian Himalayas are divided into two bio-geographic zones — the Trans-Himalaya and the Himalaya, based on physiographic, climatic and eco-biological attributes.

Pit viper

Pit viper

Abundance of species

The entire region, spread over 3.95 lakh sq. km., is home to 280 species of mammals, 940 species of birds, 316 species of fishes, 200 species of reptiles and 80 species of amphibians. This put together accounts for 27.6% of the total vertebrate diversity of the country.

The central Himalayas are the most rich in faunal diversity with 14,183 species, followed by the west Himalayas, which is home to 12,022 species.

Dr. Kailash Chandra, Director of ZSI, one of the authors of the publication, said no other geographic region in the country is as unique and influences the ecology and bio-geography of the country as the Indian Himalayas.

Black-necked Crane (Grus nigricollis) seen near Rhongo village Ladakh (1)

Black-necked Crane (Grus nigricollis) seen near Rhongo village Ladakh 

Extensive collaboration

According to Dr. Chandra, 85 taxonomic experts and specialists of various groups of faunal groups actively collaborated and contributed more than 50 chapters on the organisms, their habitats and the threats facing them.

In addition to Dr. Chandra, the publication has been co-authored by K.C. Gopi, Devanshu Gupta, Bausudev Tripathi and Vikas Kumar.

Measuring the range of species spread over the biotic provinces of the vast Indian Himalayan land mass, the authors aimed to identify areas for future research.

Dr. Chandra said the fauna of the region exhibited an intermingling of both the Oriental and Palaearctic-Ethiopian elements. He explained that the eastern parts of the Indian Himalayas, a bio-diversity hotspot, had tropical elements with their affinities from Indo-Chinese and Malayan sub-regions of the Oriental region. The fauna of the western part of the Indian Himalayas on the other hand, comprises the Mediterranean and Ethiopian elements.

The Indian Himalayas also have 131 protected areas, which cover 9.6% of the entire protected area of the country, almost the same as the Western Ghats (10% of protected areas), another biodiversity hotspot in the country. The protected areas include 20 national parks, 71 wildlife sanctuaries, five tiger reserves, four biosphere reserves and seven Ramsar Wetland sites.

The publication lists 133 vertebrate species of the region cited as threatened in the IUCN Red List. This includes 43 species of mammals like the critically endangered Pygmy Hog, the Namdapha flying squirrel and the endangered Snow leopard, the Red Panda and the Kashmir Gray Langur.

Fifty-two species of birds are also in the threatened category like the critically endangered White-Bellied Heron and Siberian crane and vulnerable species like the Black Necked crane and the Indian Spotted eagle, among others. Of the 940 bird species found in the Indian Himalayas, 39 are endemic to the region.

The Indian Himalayas host 1,249 species/subspecies of butterflies, with the highest density recorded in Arunachal Pradesh. Some of the rare high-altitude butterflies found in the Himalayas are Parnassius stoliczkanus (Ladakh banded Apollo) and Parnassius epaphus (Red Apollo), listed under Schedule I and Schedule II of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, respectively.

Role of climate change

According to experts, most of the threatened species of vertebrates, particularly mammals, require population assessment and study of the role of climate change on their habitat.

Climate change is the major threat as far as mammals and birds are concerned. The impact is visible in the shifting distribution of sensitive species like the Asiatic Black Bear, the Snow leopard, and the Himalayan Marmot. “Carnivores and their habitats are threatened by ever-increasing human-wildlife conflict in the region,” the publication states.

Habitat loss due to land use change, illegal wildlife trade, forest fires and increasing anthropogenic activities pose threats to this Himayalan biodiversity, the publication underlines.

by Shiv Sahay Singh

Environment, Science

Endangered Himalayan yew, high value medicinal plant of Himalaya, on the brink of extinction

by Seema Sharma | TNN |

Kullu based GB Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development based in Himachal Pardesh has
conducted a study on ‘Population Ecology of the Endangered Himalayan Yew, in Khokhan Wildlife Sanctuary (Khokhan WLS) of
North western Himalaya for conservation management.
Yew is an endangered native high value medicinal plant of the Himalayan region. The several medicinal properties of the bark
and leaves of this species have increased its risk of extinction due to pressures for utilization. The species does not regenerate
from seed which is another risk factor. Six forest communities where the species is present were sampled in the study, which
revealed that abundance of the species, impacts of harvesting and its current regeneration patterns indicate that it may soon
be disappear from the Sanctuary. A plan for conservation the remaining sub-population was also presented in the study, which
could provide a template for conservation in other locations where this species is at risk.
The objective of the research were to assess the status of Himalayan yew in the Khokhan WLS to provide factors responsible
for depletion of the population and develop a strategy for conservation of the species in the sanctuary.
Khokhan WLS is located in the Kullu district in North West Himalaya. Globally , the yew is primarily valued for the medicinal
properties of taxol. As per dictionary meaning, a compound, originally obtained from the bark of the yew tree, which has been
found to inhibit the growth of certain cancers. Its anti-cancerous properties were first reported in 1964. In India, the
conservation community became concerned that increased utilisation of Himalayan yew made it more vulnerable. The tree is
also a source of drug Zarnab, which is frequently used in the Unani system of medicine. The extract derived from the bark and
leaves is used to cure bronchitis, asthma, acute headache, cough &cold and poisonous insect bites and is also used as
aphrodisiac.
5/11/2019 Endangered Himalayan yew, high value medicinal plant of Himalaya, on the brink of extinction – Times of India
https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/endangered-himalayan-yew-high-value-medicinal-plant-of-himalaya-on-the-brink-of-extinction/articleshowprint/69250275.cms 2/2
Besides from its medicinal use, yew wood has value as an extremely hard and durable wood product. In East-Anglia and India,
yew wood has been used for making furniture, for wood carving and also for fuel. Because of its many beneficial uses,
Himalayan yew has been exploited to the brink of extinction. Its habitats have been degraded by deforestation and human land
uses. These effects are further exacerbated by the species’ relative intolerance to fire and drought and poor regeneration.
S.S. Samant , head of the GB Pant Institute said, “Although the present study was limited to one location, its finding indicate that
there is an urgent need to develop an appropriate conservation strategy for this species. The population of Himalayan yew
throughout the Indian Himalayan region should be inventoried using standard ecological method.
A monitoring plan should be developed and implemented to determine trends in existing populations. Apart from this,
sustainable methods of bark and leaf extraction should be developed and disseminated to local inhabitant.
Further Research should be done on the regeneration of this species, both vegetative and by seed.” He further recommended
in his study that an effort should be made to enlist the aid of local residents in propagating the species. In-situ conservation of
the species should be promoted. Seedlings developed from seeds and cuttings should be transplanted to appropriate
locations in the sanctuary and their growth and survival should be monitored.
His co-researcher Shreekar Pant mentioned in the study that collection of wood for fuel by the gujjars and inhabitants of the
peripheral villages has caused damage, increased susceptibility to disease and likewise contributed to mortality. The
information gathered during this study indicated that 50% of the surviving yew trees have been affected by bark removal and
remainder are subject to lopping and felling for fuel. Most bark is collected from the largest trees (60% are affected).

Science, Space

India to get another ‘eye in the sky’ on May 22

The Indian Space Research Organisation plans to release the lander once it is in the Moon orbit and make a soft landing near the South Pole of the moon on September 6.

India is set to get another ‘eye in the sky’ as Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) will launch its latest radar imaging satellite (Risat-2BR1) from Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh on May 22. 

Risat-2BR1 is much more advanced than the previous Risat-series satellite. “Its launch is due on May 22. Though the new satellite looks same as the old one from outside, its configuration is different from the earlier one launched. The new satellite, therefore, has enhanced surveillance and imaging capabilities,” a source in Isro told TOI. Risat’s X-band synethic aperture radar (SAR) possesses day-night as well as all-weather monitoring capability. The radar can even penetrate clouds and zoom up to a resolution of 1 metre (means it can distinguish between two objects separated by 1 m distance).

“The Risat satellite can take images of a building or an object on the earth at least 2 to 3 times a day,” the source said. Therefore, it can help keep an eye on the activities of jihadi terror camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and infiltrators at terror launchpads along the LoC.

The new imaging satellite will boost all-weather surveillance capabilities of Indian security forces and will help detect any potential threat around the Indian borders. As the satellite can also track hostile ships at sea, it can be used to keep a hawk-eye on Chinese naval vessels in the Indian Ocean and Pakistani warships in the Arabian Sea. The images from old Risat-series satellites were earlier used to plan the surgical strike in 2016 and the air strike on a Jaish camp in Pakistan’s Balakot this year. Risat also enhanced Isro’s capability for disaster management applications.

After the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai in 2008, Risat-2 satellite programme took priority over Risat-1 because of the advanced radar system, manufactured in Israel, and was launched in April 20, 2009 to boost surveillance capabilities of security forces. From 536km altitude, the satellite monitors Indian borders 24×7 and helps security agencies keep an eye on infiltrators.

The synethic aperture radar uses the motion of the radar antenna over a target region to provide finer spatial resolution than conventional beam-scanning radars. The distance the SAR satellite travels over a target in the time taken for the radar pulses to return to the antenna creates the large synthetic antenna aperture. Typically, the larger the aperture, the higher the image resolution will be, regardless of whether the aperture is physical (a large antenna) or synthetic (a moving antenna) – this allows SAR to create high-resolution images with comparatively small physical antennas. 

by Surendra Singh | TNN

India’s Second Visit To Moon Likely To Begin In July, Says Space Agency

The space agency has announced that India’s second visit to the Moon under the Chandrayaan-2 mission will most likely be launched between July 9-16 this year.

The Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) second mission to the Moon entails an orbiter, a lander and moon rover. The expected soft landing on the moon is likely to take place on September 6, 2019. India’s moon rover has been named “Pragyan” or “Knowledge”, since India hopes to understand the geology of Earth’s closest celestial neighbour through a series of unique experiments.

The Rs. 800-crore mission will be launched using the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mk III (GSLV Mk III) from Sriharikota.

According to a statement by ISRO, Chandrayaan-2 has three modules — Orbiter, Lander (Vikram) and Rover (Pragyan). The Orbiter and Lander modules will be interfaced mechanically and stacked together as an integrated module and accommodated inside the GSLV MK-III launch vehicle.

The Rover is housed inside the Lander. After a launch into the earth-bound orbit by GSLV MK-III, the integrated module will reach the Moon’s orbit using Orbiter propulsion module. The Lander will then separate from the Orbiter and soft land at the predetermined site close to lunar South Pole. After this, the Rover will roll out to carry out scientific experiments.

6rpog858

The second mission to the Moon entails an orbiter, a lander and moon rover.

Instruments have also also mounted on the Lander and Orbiter for scientific experiments.

India’s maiden mission to the Moon took place in 2008 under the Chandryaan-1 mission which also involved hard landing the Moon Impact Probe (MIP) on the lunar surface on November 14, 2008.

Chandrayaan-1 gave the first ever signatures of the presence of water molecules on the lunar surface.

The second mission was first delayed because a joint collaboration between India and Russia on the lander unit failed to take off after the Russian lander developed problems. India then had to develop the entire lander module on its own which it named the “Vikram” — after Vikram A Sarabhai, also known as the father of the Indian space programme.

Later, the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mk-II saw two failures in 2010. The ISRO then found out that the re-configured lander “Vikram” had become too heavy to be lofted using the GSLV Mk-II. When the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mk-III, also known as the “Bahubaali” became available, the agency decided to use the India’s heaviest launcher for the Chandrayaan-2 mission.

The space agency plans to release the lander once it is in the Moon orbit and make a soft landing near the South Pole of the Moon. No other nation has landed on the near side of the South Pole of the Moon yet.

If India succeeds to make a soft landing on the Moon, it will become the forth country after Russia, USA and China to have achieved this feat.