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indian scientists have digitally mapped rich flora spread over an area of about 84,000 square kilometres of thick forest. The first phase of this exercise was conducted in the biodiversity hotspots of the northeast, western Himalaya and Western Ghats with the aid of state-of-the-art satellite technology.
The digital mapping project is part of a joint programme undertaken by the department of biotechnology (dbt), department of space and the Union ministry of environment and forests. "The role of dbt is to map the gene pool of plant species," says Renu Swarup, director, dbt. The data generated by the mapping will be compiled as a 'Biodiversity Atlas and Database of India', a repository of vast plant resources that are important economically and ecologically.
It is hoped that the study will help in providing vital information for conservation of biodiversity. The project is also expected to facilitate bioprospecting in India. This research will also benefit the international scientific community.
While the first phase of mapping covered 46 per cent of the total forest cover in India, the second phase involves study of the Eastern Ghats, central India and the mangrove regions. Scientists who carried out the survey relied on intensive field samples, knowledge base of local people and aerial mapping using remote sensing satellite.
Consonant with sound statistical practices, about 5,100 samples from different vegetation types were used to derive variability of species, the ecological status of medicinal plants, their endemism and ecological sensitivity. Recorded data from the study shows that over 80 to 90 per cent of the world's food requirements are met with by 10 to 20 plant species.
Three important high-altitude medicinal plants -- Ephedra gerardiana, Hippophae rhamnioides and Texus wallichiana -- have been mapped. The curative value of these species with regard to the altitudes in which they occur has also been investigated.