Invasive species may soon wipe out Shola vegetation from Nilgiris: Report

Alarming expansion of exotic and tea plantations threaten native dry deciduous, moist deciduous and thorn forests and grasslands there

By Ishan Kukreti
Published: Thursday 19 September 2019
The Shola vegetation are tropical montane forests found in the Western Ghats separated by rolling grasslands in high altitudes. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Expanding plantains like tea and eucalyptus along with exotic and invasive species in the Nilgiris can wipe out Shola vegetation, according to a report filed by an expert committee formed by the Madras High Court.

This change in vegetation will result in loss of water sources and is already leading to massive landslides, read the interim report Down To Earth had access to.

“The Shola vegetation has become relict in Ooty Nilgiris and may vanish soon as a result of exotics and tea plantations,” it added.

The committee recognises the deleterious impact of invasive species like eucalyptus, tea plantations and wattle and naturalised alien species like Lantana camara, Opuntia stricta, Chromolaena odorata, Parthenium hysterophorus and Senna spectabilis on the Shola forest and grasslands.

“The wattle is replacing grasslands and Shola forests. The plantations of Eucalyptus, pines and cupressus have virtually wiped out grasslands and sholas. The massive tea gardens also replaced the vegetation,” found the committee.

The Shola vegetation are tropical montane forests found in the Western Ghats separated by rolling grasslands in high altitudes.

The expert committee visited the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve on August 21, 2019. Around 60 per cent (690 square kilometres) of the entire core and buffer area of the reserve is under invasion, found the committee.

Three petitions were filed in the Madurai bench of the high court in 2014, 2016 and 2017 to draw the court’s attention to this invasion. The petitions were later moved to the Madras High Court, which, on January 11, formed an expert committee to look into the issue.

The domination of invasive species in the Western Ghats was between 65 and 75 per cent, according to data presented by the state government during the January 11 hearing.

No secondary or fresh growth of indigenous trees, plants or grass, which serve as food for elephants, was seen in areas occupied by invasive species, the government said in court.

Moreover, the attempts made by the forest department to manage the invasive alien species has had little or no success, according to the report.

“Removal of exotics and invasive alien species and subsequent ecological restoration of weed-free landscapes requires well-knitted management structure and resources,” the committee suggested in the report.

The committee recommended that there is an urgent need to map the extent of exotic plantations, spread of invasive alien species and loss of grasslands in each forest division of the Nilgiris.

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