Monday, November 18, 2013

Functional Traits For Fish Biodiversity Assessment Offer New Opportunity In Conservation

An interesting idea put forward by a research study has redefined the ways biodiversity assessment may be taken up in future.

Traditionally, biodiversity of a place is determined by identifying number of different species or “species richness” as the basis global diversity pattern since the times of Darwin and Linnaeus. This has also constituted as the biological basis for management of threatened ecosystems.

However, a  study conducted by a global team studying reef fishes has revealed that by considering a species’ role in an ecosystem and the number of  individuals within a species, new hot spots of biodiversity can be identified.

The study, led by Dr. Rick Stuart-Smith of the University ofTasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, includes researchers, Jon Lefcheck and Professor Emmett Duffy of the Virginia Institute of MarineSciences, and scientists from Spain, and researchers from other places.

The study is based on information collected through the Reef Life Survey program, which is a “citizen science” initia­tive developed in Tasmania. The RLS program operates worldwide training recreational SCUBA divers to survey numbers of reef animals and supporting their research endeavors.

Over 100 dedicated divers have contributed to the project by looking at ecological patterns and processes impossible for scientific dive teams to cover.

As pointed out by Lefcheck, counting species is a really coarse way of understanding diversity. Gathering information, instead, on other animal’s traits—what they eat, how they move, where they live— can provide understanding of their dissimilarity, the very essence of diversity.

The study provides a fresh look at biodiversity assessment. Unlike biodiversity censuses which count species, collecting information on species role in ecosys­tems, which needs to know, how abundant they are and what they’re doing, is difficult to get.

The study is based on analysis of data from 4,357 standardized surveys, spanned over 133 degrees of latitude finding 2,473 different species of fish by RLS divers at 1,844 coral and rocky reef sites worldwide. This study is claimed to the first comprehensive study with new approach, and this  undoubtedly offers a different perspective of global diversity map.

The research team noted how the members of each of these species make a living, using a detailed matrix of “functional traits”,  which included what the fishes eat (plankton, inver­tebrates, algae, other fish, or a combination), how they eat (browsing, scraping, or predation), where they live (in, on, or near the bottom or free-swimming), weather active at night or during the day, and how gregarious they are (solitary, paired, or schooling).

By determining the biology and ecology of these fishes—noting what they do and how they do it—alters hotspots of diversity. Though coral reefs are the most species-rich habitats on earth, the trait-based view identifies new areas where the diversity of ways in which fishes function is even higher.

The study reveals that functional biodiversity is highest in places like the Galápagos with only moderate species counts, whereas functional biodiversity is low in many classical hotspots with high species counts, such as the iconic coral triangle of the west Pacific.

It is interesting to note that in coral reefs having lots of species, many are doing largely the same thing, whereas in temperate reefs with many fewer species, species tend to spread individuals out among species doing different things.
The study findings have important implications for planning and management, because incorporating information on func­tional traits into monitoring programs will add an extra dimension and greater ecological relevance to global efforts to manage and conserve marine biodi­versity.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Protect Spiders:They Are Beautiful And Useful

There are different life forms around us, and our reactions to each of them is different, depending upon their known importance and our understanding and perception about them.

Those forms which serve as our food, are source of medicines, and provide materials of economic importance are always in demand, while other forms according to general perception of people have attached tales of being harmful, dangerous and poisonous. Still others arise feelings of amusement, awe, dislike, even animosity leading to their killing at first sight.

It is likely that a spider sighted hopping on the floor, dangling on its web, or hiding behind the door, lead to its smashing with the newspaper roll, or sucking by the vacuum cleaner. Parents instead of  inducing fear against spiders may start teaching their children love and respect for spiders as marvellous creatures.

An unknown species of spider

Spiders are a class of not very much understood creatures, and are important to our ecosystem, for they greatly help in keeping in control insects populations. An unwanted spider in the home is only protecting us from mosquitoes, flies and other pests. But this does not reduce their importance as creatures of great value to the ecosystem. 

The most fascinating behaviour of their life is their predatory behaviour and the multiple means to catch their prey. Some spiders jump and catch their prey, others silently attack their prey, still others spin fascinating variety of webs to catch, and then prey on their victims.

A variety  of Tarantulla sp.

Spiders are a group of Arthropods, invertebrates with jointed legs, but unlike insects which have six legs, spiders belong to the group called arachnids which have eight legs. The other close relatives of spiders are scorpions, ticks and mites.

Spiders are ubiquitous, and are found in all continents except Antarctica. There are some 40000 species of spiders, with high order of diversity as a result of their adaptability to different ecosystems.

A closer look of spiders' body show colourful combination of  bright colours.  Their bodies are divisible into a head and abdomen, the abdomen is plump. Most spiders have eight eyes,  and feel vibrations with the help of tiny hairs on their legs. 

Spiders are good jumpers, runners, spinners. There are web-weaving and non-web weaving spiders. The weaving types are: garden spider, water spider, cobweb spider, brown recluse, black widow, funnel weaver, nursery spider.

The example of non-weaving types are: wolf spider, crab spider, tarantula, jumping spider, trapdoor spider, sac spider.

Some species spin symmetrical orb webs which reflects their great intuitive ability to design and position traps in locations that can fetch better catch.

Spiders blood is light blue and fills all empty spaces in the body to provide it shape, blood provides stiffness to legs to help in walking. 

As spiders grow they molt several times, shedding old skin and grow in new one; they molt several times before they become adult. The average life span of a spider is one year, but tarantullas can live longer.

Spiders feed on small and large insects depending upon their size; tarantulas can feed on mice, lizards and birds. Most tarantulas pose no risk to humans, the largest tarantula is known as the Goliath Birdeater. The giant Huntsman spiders has total span of legs up to 30 centi meters.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

APP Released to Promote East Indies Fishes Among Masses

​​ The US based agency Conservation International (CI) has announced the release of  the “Reef Fishes Of The East Indies” mobile app, a digital guide to every known reef fish species in the most biodiverse region on the planet, based on the book of the same title.

The objective is sharing  knowledge on reef fish of the region which is of great value to the regions biodiversity. This app will increase motivation and momentum for conservation to ensure that the region’s species and their delicate ecosystems are allowed to stay balance.

Maintaining this natural capital is key to the region’s important tourism industry, and other ecosystem services the ocean provides the people.

The comprehensive guide  includes over 2,500 reef fishes of which 25 species are new to science. It summarizes 60 years of research and exploration and brings greater understanding and valuation of the immense biodiversity of reef fish in the East Indies.

The scientist authors, Mark Erdmann and Gerry Allen, have spent much of their lives at sea discovering, studying and conserving some of the most rare and beautiful fish in the world. The proceeds of this CI produced app will support CI Indonesia’s marine conservation program.

Designed for iPad and Kindle Fire, the app "Reef Fishes of the East Indies" enables users to use it at sea, with no internet connection. The app contains many useful and interactive features including search, note-taking and drawing features, detailed entries for each species, and photo-sharing by e-mail and social media.

A perfect digital guide for divers and nature lovers to use in the office, school, home or out on the open sea, it was originally created as a book but later made into an app to bring this information to the masses in an easy to access, transportable format.

The coverage area of the app includes the Coral Triangle (including Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Timor Leste, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands) which alone boasts 37% of the world’s coral reef fish species.

It covers all shallow-water (0-75m) reef-associated fish species known from the region, including both obligate reef dwellers and those that are commonly observed passing through reef areas or in the soft bottom areas just adjacent to reefs.

From the majestic manta ray (Manta birostris) to the gorgeous, jewel-like mandarinfish (Synchiropus splendidus), with 2,655 species in over 3,000 Retina Display/High Definition photos, the sheer quantity of content is split between three volumes for iPad that link together seamlessly, so you can move instantly between one volume and another.

Organized by Classification, Family, and Species, the app will be regularly updated to keep up with the scientists’ new discoveries. Scientists have very recently found a new species of “walking” Bamboo Shark (Hemiscyllium halmahera) in the waters off the Maluku Islands, Indonesia.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Biotechnology and Biodiversity Conservation

By Mohd. Haider

Biotechnological techniques offer wide ranging opportunities for improving the quality and increased productivity of agriculture, forestry, fisheries and medicine. In context of biodiversity same techniques can be applied for conservation of biodiversity

Genes from plants, animals and microorganisms are the strategic raw materials for their identification, conservation and conservation, and also for selective commercial development of new agricultural and industrial products, including medicines.

Biotechnology already assists the conservation of plant and animal genetic resources through:

  • Novel methods for collecting and storing genes (as improved seed and tissue culture)
  • Detection and elimination of diseases in gene bank collections
  • Identification of useful genes
  • Improved techniques for long-term storage 

Biotechnological tools are being employed for conservation of endangered plant species of economic and medicinal importance.Tissue culture techniques have been developed for endangered species. Some major achievements have been made in conservation of environment and biodiversity.  

Modern biotechnology offers new means of improving biodiversity. If properly tested for both risk and benefits to human and the environment, transgenic crops are more likely to increase agricultural biodiversity. In the context, there are two quite different applications of biotechnology or of molecular biology that are relevant. The first is to use biotechnology as a tool for acquiring knowledge, whilst the second is to use biotechnology to directly intervene in plant and animal breeding, in particular to transfer genetic information from one sort of organism to a particular crop or farm animal to make it transgenic. 

In taxonomy molecular markers are used to identify individual strains of organisms or to identify species. This is useful in ex-situ conservation of plants, animals and microorganisms. Biotechnology is useful for following genetic markers in plant and animal breeding, animal or plant varieties are crossed by conventional or sexual means. 

By analyzing a few cells of the newly born calf or the newly sprouted crops, one can predict some of the expected properties of the progeny, by looking at the presence or absence of certain forms of genes. This enables to predict the phonetic property which will only show’s up later in life, for instance certain characteristics of a cow’s milk or the crops expected resistance to infectious diseases.

The availability of genome sequences is a boost to research. The first two complete plant genome sequences determined were those of Arabidopsis and rice. The 120 million base pair of Arabidopsis sequenced by International academic consortium. The 430 million base pair of rice was completed by Syngenta.

As we know all genes consist of DNA, and information present in DNA molecule is read in the same way in all organisms in order to make proteins. With the help of biotechnological tools it is possible to transfer gene from any organism into another organism so that the recipient should produce protein that were only produced in donor.The resulting organisms, called transgenic.
(This article is primarily a guest note written by Mohd. Haider)

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Protect the Western Ghat's ‘Natural Landscape’: High Level Report

When the question of preserving India's biodiversity comes to mind, it draws attention to the Western Ghats which stretch along the west coast of India from the river Tapti in the north to the southern tip of India.

Undoubtedly the Western Ghats are a biological treasure trove and it is seriously endangered. And for this reason it calls for protection and regeneration of its enormous wealth of endemic species and natural beauty. The Union Ministry of Environment and Forest’s High Level Working Group report presented on 17th of April 2013 to Jayanthi Natarajan, India's Minister of State for Environment& Forests, is a welcome move in the direction of conservation of this hotspot.

The report has been prepared by 10-member Working Group headed by Dr. K. Kasturirangan, Member, Planning Commission and environmental experts and other professionals as its members. The Group was constituted to advise the Government on the recommendations of an earlier report prepared by an expert panel led by the ecologist Madhav Gadgil.

The Gadgil panel had recommended that the entire Western Ghats should be declared as an ecologically sensitive area, and had suggested three levels of categorization for imposition of regulatory measures for protection, and establishment of the Western Ghats Ecology Authority for management. Following public responses received to the recommendations of the Gadgil report, the Environment ministry constituted in August 2012, a High Level Working Group to examine the large numbers of public responses and to suggest the way ahead.

Dr K Kasturirangan, points out that the issue is serious, alarming and urgent and there is need to protect, manage and regenerate the lands now remaining in the Western Ghats as biologically rich, diverse, natural landscapes. He cautions that the damage has reached a threshold which does not allow to, and calls for planning and regulation in this recognized centre of biodiversity. Though Jayanthi Natarajan has assured action on the recommendations of the Working Group report, it has to be seen when and how it is implemented at the ground level.

The Working Group report draws upon the basic framework suggested by Gadgil report to use remote sensing technologies to demarcate the ecologically sensitive areas of the Western Ghats but with two key differences. First; it used satellite data, down to 24 m resolution, as against 9 km used by Gadgil report, made possible because of the collaboration with NRSC/ISRO, which used data sets to distinguish vegetation types over the landscape of the entire Western Ghats. Second, it distinguishes between the cultural and the natural landscape of the region.

 By using remote sensing technology, it has been found that the cultural landscape, which comprises human settlements, agricultural fields and plantations, is greater (58.44 % of the region), as compared to the natural landscape (41.56 %). The methodology adopted by NRSC/ISRO combined spatial information on vegetation types at species level; biological richness and disturbance regimes to identify biologically diverse and contiguous regions of the Western Ghats.

Based on the methodology used, roughly 37 per cent of the total area defined as the boundary of the Western Ghats has been found to be ecologically sensitive. In this sensitive area of about 60,000 sq km, spread over the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the Working Group has recommended a prohibitory regime on those activities which cause maximum destructive impact on the environment.

The recommendations made by the Working Group aim to “incentivize green growth in the Western Ghats”. The needs felt are towards managing forests, and improving their productivity to ensure inclusive growth and economic benefits for local communities:  integrating forest accounts into state and national economic assessments; initiating an ecosystem service fund to help villages around the forests; promoting sustainable agriculture, and encouraging eco-tourism for local benefits.

As part of the governance of ecologically sensitive areas, the Working Group has proposed to set up a Decision Support and Monitoring Centre for Geo spatial Analysis and Policy Support in the Western Ghats, which will monitor changes and advise state government on policy reforms. But it has made it clear that all these reports must be in the public domain. It has also recommended that the high-resolution map, which demarcates ecologically sensitive areas, down to each village settlement, must be put in the public domain so that people can be involved in taking decisions about environment, which is first and foremost their concern.

The report notes, “environmentally sound development cannot preclude livelihood and economic options for this region… the answer (to the question of how to manage and conserve the Ghats) will not lie in removing these economic options, but in providing better incentives to move them towards greener and more sustainable practices”. In doing this, the Working Group has moved away from the suggestions of the Gadgil report, which had recommended a blanket approach consisting of guidelines for sector-wise activities, which would be permitted in the ecologically sensitive zones.

However, we will know the effects of the recommendations only after these are implemented. And it is going to take time. Come what may the biodiversity of the Western Ghats must be preserved with its prestine beauty. If local people are educated and motivated to conserve nature it is all the more a desirable move.

Friday, April 19, 2013

I am back after a gap !

Birds never miss a chance. They are indeed very hardworking. This is why the proverb 'early bird catches the worm'. There are several bird species which, like this one, work till late evening to find their last prey. It was seen before sunset with its large insect prey.

I am wanted on the above note. I had a long gap away from my blogging activity. However, I am back to the business of blogging. and in this intervening period I have made several friends on Twitter, and otherwise. Those friends are passionate about conservation of biodiversity, and most of them are involved in hard-core research and fieldwork.

Shortly, I will now start reporting about some very devoted organizations,their scientists and researchers engaged in really admirable work. So bear for a few more days!

A catch for my nestlings!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Education and Awareness Necessary to Protect Biodiversity in India

This article from Mr. Mohd. Haider, who is by education M.Sc in Biotechnology and holds a bachelor degree in education. He is interested in pursuing a career in environment, conservation and teaching. We invite similar articles from other interested readers. The article by Mr. Haider is reproduced below, along with his contact e-mail at the end:

Mohd. Haider
India is one of the very important regions in the world as for as biodiversity on planet Earth is concerned. There are 18 “biodiversity hotspots” in Western Ghats and Eastern Himalayas. Forest found in these regions are highly dense and there exists incredible biodiversity. Overall, India is estimated to have over 45,000 plant species and 80,000 animal species representing 7% of world’s flora and 6.5 % of fauna.

Biodiversity refers to the variation of life forms including species diversity and species richness on the entire planet. The term biological diversity was used first by wildlife scientist and conservationist Raymond F. Dasmann in the 1968. Biodiversity is not evenly distributed; rather it varies greatly across the globe as well as within regions. The diversity depends upon temperature, altitude, soil, geographical location etc., it also depends upon the ecosystem.

Biodiversity in the tropics is of special interest since the richness of species found there is so great. According to some estimates, 90 percent of all plant, animal, and insect species exist in tropical regions. At the same time, surveys of organisms in the tropics have been very limited. As an example, one study of a 108-square kilometer (42-square mile) reserve of dry forest in Costa Rica found about 700 plant species, 400 vertebrate species, and 13,000 species of insects. Included among the latter group were 3,140 species of moth and butterflies alone.

One reason for the growing interest in biodiversity is the threat that human activities may pose for plant and animal species. As humans take over more land for agriculture, cities, highways, and other uses, natural habitats are seriously disrupted. Whole populations may be destroyed, upsetting the balance of nature that exists in an area. The loss of a single plant, for example, may result in the loss of animals that depend on that plant for food. The loss of those animals may, in turn, result in the loss of predators that prey on those animals.

A recent discovered method put the total number of species on Earth at 8.7 million of which 2.1 million were estimated to live in the ocean. Brazil’s forest is considered one such hot spot, containing roughly 20,000 plant species, 1,350 vertebrates, and millions of insects, about half of which occur nowhere else. The island of Madagascar particularly the unique Madagascar dry deciduous forests and lowland rain forests, possess a high ratio of endemism. Since the island separated from mainland Africa 65 million years ago, many species and ecosystems have evolved independently. 

Indonesia's 17,000 islands cover 735,355 square miles (1,904,560 km2) contain 10% of the world's flowering plants, 12% of mammals and 17% of  reptiles, amphibians and birds—along with nearly 240 million people. Many regions of high biodiversity and/or endemism arise from specialized habitats which require unusual adaptations, for example alpine environments in high mountains.

Terrestrial biodiversity is up to 25 times greater than ocean biodiversity; biodiversity supports ecosystem services including air quality, climate, water purification, pollination and prevention of soil erosion. Biodiversity supports many ecosystem services that are often not readily visible Biodiversity enriches leisure activities such as hiking, bird watching etc. Popular activities such as gardening, fish keeping and specimen collecting strongly depend on biodiversity. 

The number of species involved in such pursuits is in the tens of thousands. During the last century, decreases in biodiversity have been increasingly observed. According to some estimates up to 30% of all species will be extinct by 2050. Of these, about one eighth of known plant species are threatened with extinction. Estimates reach as high as 140,000 species per year (based on Species-area theory). These figures are a cause of concern and indicate prevalence of unsustainable ecological practices.

In 2006 many species were formally classified as rare or endangered or threatened; moreover, scientists have estimated that millions more species are at risks which have not been formally recognized. About 40 percent of the 40,177 species assessed using the IUCN Red List criteria are now listed as threatened with extinction—a total of 16,119. As human populations grow, the threat to biodiversity will continue to grow with it. And as more people place greater stress on the natural environment, greater will be the loss of resources plant and animal communities need to survive.

Biodiversity has special importance in India because the traditional communities have been closely associated with the conservation of our fauna and flora. We need to educate and make our communities aware of the scientific importance of biodiversity and encourage communities to conserve biodiversity. It is heartening India has strong conservation laws and regulations. But their implementation is lacking. Education and awareness at every level right from the grassroots to the policy making is essential to achieve the objective of sustainable development!

 1.    Raup, D. M. (1994). "The role of extinction in evolution”. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 91 (15) 6758–6763.
2.     The Cambrian Period". University of California Museum of Paleontology. Retrieved May 17, 2012.
3.     Sahney, S. and Benton, M.J. (2008). "Recovery from the most profound mass extinction of all time"

4.   Bambach, R.K.; Knoll, A.H.; Wang, S.C. (December 2004)."Origination, extinction, and mass  depletions of marine diversity".

5.      Dasmann, R. F. 1968. A Different Kind of Country. MacMillan Company, New York.

6.      "Robert E. Jenkins". 2011-08-18. Retrieved 2011-09-24.

7.     Ramanujan, Krishna (2 December 2010). "Study: Loss of species is bad for your health".

8.     Water and Development: An Evaluation of World Bank Support, 1997-2007. Vol.I., p.79.


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