Wildlife & Biodiversity

More than half of Indian bird species are in academic campuses, says WII study

Academic campuses and similar fragmented areas could secure a wide variety of species, say authors

By Rajat Ghai
Published: Wednesday 07 September 2022
The entrance to the campus of the Wildlife Institute of India

Academic campuses harbour more than half of India’s bird species, according to a new study by researchers from the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun.

The authors of the study added that the notion that larger areas had more biodiversity had long directed conservation philosophy. This meant that conservation in fragmented landscapes had been focused chiefly on keeping the remaining large patches intact.

But this approach undervalued the importance of smaller patches compared to large protected areas.

The authors said their study showed that campuses and other similar fragmented habitats had enormous conservation potential and could secure a wide variety of species in a small area.

The researchers “collected locations and boundaries of 812 campuses of academic institutions in ten biogeographic zones of India, classified based on their habitat and faunal characteristics”.

They targeted Indian Institutes of Technology, Indian Institutes of Management, central and state universities, research institutes and college campuses.

They found that academic campuses in India reported 779 bird species, with an average of 88 species per campus. The species included five critically endangered, seven endangered, 17 vulnerable and 33 near-threatened species.

“The bird diversity data were available for only 41.25 per cent of campuses in our dataset, yet 0.0088 per cent (290.57 square kilometres) of India’s land area within these campuses reported 58.70 per cent of the total 1,327 bird species found in India,” the authors wrote.

About 39.65 per cent of the campuses surveyed in the study were in the largest biogeographic zone — the Deccan Peninsula, while the desert and trans-Himalayas were under-represented.

All the campuses covered a total area of 510.19 sq km. The average size of the campuses was 0.63 sq km, ranging from 831 sq metres (Azim Premji University UG campus) to 8.11 sq km (University of Hyderabad).

Full of potential

Academic campuses are known to harbour high biodiversity. For instance, 335 plant species have been reported at Bharathiar University, Coimbatore and 109 bird species at Gauhati University.

The authors of the present study found that WII and Forest Research Institute of India, Dehradun, were the most avian-rich campuses with 373 and 356 bird species, respectively.

It was not just India where campuses had been shown to support biodiversity.

“Academic campuses in the urban landscapes retained about 10 per cent of China’s vascular plant species in only 0.0008 per cent of land area. A similar trend was found in Turkey, where 31 universities maintained a mean richness of 328 plant species,” the paper noted.

So, why campuses? They hold higher biodiversity compared to urban parks and gardens due to the persistence of natural areas and less intensive management.

Data regarding biodiversity in campuses is well-maintained since they are home to taxonomy and ecology experts.

Green areas within campuses are also expected to withstand rapid habitat modifications because academic campuses are maintained over a long time.

Indeed, the authors wrote that campuses in India underwent significantly less human-induced habitat modification than their surrounding landscape in the last one decade.

“Therefore, scoping the conservation potential of previously ignored spaces is the need of the hour,” the authors wrote.

“Data is the biggest thing lacking in studies on this issue. There are many such biodiversity patches in urban and non-urban areas, but there is no monitoring done on them. So they are often neglected. In this case, Bird Count India has conducted its annual countrywide ‘Campus Bird Count’ events since 2014 to monitor avian presence in Indian academic campuses,” Shivam Shrotriya, co-author of the paper told Down To Earth.

“Even the biodiversity monitoring happening through Citizen Science initiatives is not systematic and scientific methods are difficult to apply to such datasets for comparative analyses. So the next step for Citizen Science should be to collect data in a systematic manner,” he added.

Biodiversity significance of small habitat patches: More than half of Indian bird species are in academic campuses was published in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning.

The authors were Venkanna Babu Guthula, Shivam Shrotriya,Parag Nigam,Surendra Prakash Goyal, Dhananjai Mohan and Bilal Habib.

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