Government boosts R&D efforts for biodiversity conservation

Biodiversity, the variety of all the life forms on earth, is the most complex feature on our planet and the most vital one. The sheer richness of biodiversity is crucial for human existence and without it there is no future for us. India, a megadiverse country with only 2.4% of the world's land area, accounts for 7–8% of all recorded species in the world.It harbours a tremendous diversity of ecological habitats including forests, grasslands, wetlands, desert, coastal and marine ecosystems. Thus, India’s management of its natural resources is crucial to protecting global biodiversity.

However, due to several anthropogenic pressures in the recent years, there has been a significant decline in number of endemic and endangered species such as: Asiatic Lion, Nilgiritahr, lion-tailed macaque, Jerdon’s courser, cane turtle and purple frog.Some species have gone extinct, and notable among them are, Indian cheetah and pink-headed duck

To protect the critically endangered and other threatened animal and plant species, Government of India has adopted many steps, laws and policy initiatives.Realizing the exigency to conserve country’s rich biodiversity, Government of India (GOI) has taken up a mission mode, “National Biodiversity Mission”, to protect the critically endangered and other threatened animal and plant species. Prime Minister’s Science, Technology and Advisory Council (PM-STIAC) National Biodiversity mission is working on comprehensive documentation of India’s biodiversity conservation and distribution with the potential for cataloguing and mapping all life-forms.

In view of the same, under the aegis of the National Knowledge Commission, a high-level advisory body to the Prime Minister of India, a unique repository of information on India’s biodiversity “India Biodiversity Portal” has been launched. It is designed to facilitate and enable widespread participation by all citizens in contributing and accessing information on Indian biodiversity, that benefits science and society, contributes to sustainable future.

Modern biotechnology practices like DNA barcoding, tissue culture, genomic library, Next Generation Sequencingis being adapted for in-situ and ex-situ conservation purposesof endangered wildlife and plant species.Department of Biotechnology (DBT) has funded various DNA barcoding initiatives on butterflies, frogs and other texa. Molecular tools like phylogenetics are used to access diversity of different species by DNA sequencing.The Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF), in consultation with Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and other scientific institutions/organizations, has identified 16 terrestrial and seven marine species with the objective of saving critically endangered species/ecosystems.Through extensive research and studies, India has made sustained efforts in fulfilling her commitments towards conservation of biodiversity, some of which are as following:

  • A study supported by DBT at the Centre for Wildlife Studies (CWS) and National Center for Biological Sciences (NCBS)has been used to prioritise the country’s tiger conservation efforts for the first time. The team genotyped 10,184 SNPs from 38 individuals across 17 protected areas and identified three genetically distinct clusters of tigers in India. The study investigated the reasons behind the diversification of the tiger population and indicated ways to strategise tiger conservation.
  • The Laboratory for the Conservation of Endangered Species (LaCONES), a dedicated facility of CSIR’s Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) in Hyderabad is India’s only facility for conservation of endangered species. Through artificial insemination of cryopreserved sperm, scientists at CCMB has successfully produced off-springs of blue rock pigeon, spotted deer and blackbuck, which were on the verge of extinction, CCMB scientists in collaboration with Nehru Zoological Park, Hyderabad have now rescued Indian Mouse Deer from extinction through successful conservation breeding programme.
  • Better understanding of the ecology and phylogenetic history of endangered species is crucial for conservation.A team of researchers from multiple institutes in India collaborated to conduct genetic data analysis of the critically endangered forest owletHeteroglauxblewitti. This first molecular phylogenetic study of the Critically Endangered species demonstrates that crucial information can only be obtained through capture-based sampling that strengthens the efforts of species conservation.
  • Government of India in association with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has launched a six year project called SECURE Himalaya to conserve locally and globally significant biodiversity, land and forest wealth of higher Himalayan ecosystem stretched over Jammu and Kasmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Sikkim in India. One of the main goals is to protect snow leopard among other endangered species and their habitats. Besides it will focus on securing livelihoods of the people in the region, and to lessen the wildlife crimes.
  • In order to preserve medicinal herbs wealth, tissue culture repository has been established at National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR), New Delhi. Besides, tissue culture pilot plants for multiplication of forest trees has been established at National Chemical Laboratory (NCL), Pune and Energy Research Institute (TERI) have been started in New Delhi where some of the major initiatives taken by government of India. Under G15 initiative, Gene Banks of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (GEBMAP) and three national gene banks have also been established at Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (CIMAP), Lucknow, NBPGR, New Delhi and Tropical Botanical Garden and Research Institute (TBGRI), Thiruvananthapuram.
  • Turtle sanctuary, Allahabad and River Biodiversity Park, Sangam, have been approved under NamamiGangeprogramme by GOI. A Turtle Rearing Centre will be established, besides generating awareness about the importance of river Ganga’s biodiversity, since it is home to some of the most endangered animals like turtles, Gangetic dolphin, the Gharial and numerous migratory and resident birds.
  • Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) under its remedial action for barren land conservation converted a coal mine spoil dump in Padampur into a water body for aquaculture.
  • Rainforest in Anamalai Hills: In an attempt to restore the ecological diversity, aprogramme carried out in Western Ghats was focused on restoration of diverse tropical rainforests which were degraded due to anthropogenic activities. The restoration carried out by Parry Agro Industries Ltd, Tata Coffee Ltd, Tea Estates India Ltd–earlier Hindustan Unilever Ltd, and Tamil Nadu Forest Department was centered in Valparai plateau in Anamalaihills, 10 rainforest fragments, three sites adjacent to the Anamalai Tiger Reserve, and a perennial stream flowing through tea plantation area.

Despite the extensive array of efforts,today, majority of species is on the brink of extinction. The country's biodiversity faces a variety of threats, ranging from land use changes in natural habitats to overexploitation of natural resources, proliferation of invasive species and climate change.We can   participate in biodiversity conservation by increasing our knowledge of environmental issues, increasing our awareness of the impacts of biodiversity loss, and increasing support for government policies and actions that conserve our valuable ecosystems. The need of the hour is to act as a nation to the silent yet severe enormity of biodiversity extinction.