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Notch in the mountains

HIMALAYAN BIODIVERSITY-ACTION PLAN·Edited by Uppeandra Dhar·Himvikas Publication No. 10, published for the G B Pant Institute of Development and Environment, Almora, by the Gyanodaya Prakashan, Naintal

Published: Wednesday 15 July 1998

 Growing wild: the Himalaya is PERHAPS no other geographical location attracts researchers, non-governmental organisations and social workers like the Indian Himalaya does. Yet, despite all the effort and finances that have gone towards sustainable development of the Himalaya, gaps exist. The information available is skewed with rampant duplication on one hand and blissful ignorance on the other. One glaring example is the state of knowledge available on Himalayan biodiversity.

This book is an attempt to bring together, for the first time, information on the existing knowledge on Himalayan biodiversity and puts across lacunae that exist. In spite of all the efforts and brouhaha about Himalayan biodiversity and conservation, nothing worthwhile has been done, opines editor Uppeandra Dhar. All over the 12 Himalayan states, meetings are held and concern expressed, research projects are initiated and perhaps completed. Unfortunately, most express identical concerns, offer identical solutions and research identical issues. Dhar calls for an end to this and urges people to "overhaul their mindset and conceptualise a framework of action in response to the fast changing global scenario".

The Himalaya is rich in flora as well as fauna. However, analysis of the information available on Himalayan biodiversity indicates a strong bias towards studies on flora and hardly any on fauna and aquatic ecosystems.

A K Ghosh gives an account of the faunal diversity. Immense diversity exists in both invertebrates and vertebrates. The insect diversity and capability to adapt to the surrounding is amazing. The vertebrate diversity is not far behind -- 65 per cent of the 372 mammalian species, 45 per cent of bird species and 35 per cent of reptile species are from the Himalaya. The fate of mammalian species in the region can be gauged from the fact that 37 per cent of mammalian species listed under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act are found in the Himalaya.

The state of knowledge of lower plants in the Himalaya is reviewed by P Kachroo, who feels that the diversity existing within the species is not adequately studied, in spite of the fact that the region abounds in these -- for instance, 54 per cent of the total known fungi are from this region. The current status of lower plants like algae, fungi and mosses are also unknown. The chapter could have been more readable if some space was devoted to making the text simpler. The overview of the state of higher plants by D K Singh states that 450 plant species are threatened either due to overexploitation or destruction of habitat. He also informs that species recorded in herbaria could not be subsequently collected.

Existing knowledge of ecosystem functioning in the Himalaya leaves a lot to be desired. S P Singh explains the necessity for such information and suggests areas of research, like the linkage between biodiversity and ecosystem stability, the effect of climate change, regeneration of ecosystems subsequent to manmade alterations and the impact of invading species.

A better knowledge of ecosystems can be obtained by using remote sensors. However, rather than concentrating on the Himalaya, the chapter on "Remote Sensing for Biodiversity" gives an account of the studies undertaken all over India with few studies focusing on the Himalaya. An attempt has been made in the book to evaluate Himalayan biodiversity, a complex task since perceptions between individuals and various groups vary. Moreover, besides consumptive and productive uses, other values are hardly mentioned. Valuation of biodiversity is important for a number of reasons. Biological resources are rarely given their true market value, benefits are rarely accrued by the communities that look after these resources.

Thus, while A N Purohit gives an account of the economic value of medicinal plants of the Uttarakhand hills as well as the existing information gaps, B N Dhawan explains why Himalayan plants are a potential source for novel biomolecules. An economist's perception of the value of biodiversity is expressed by G K Kadekodi who stresses on the need for prioritising what needs to be conserved on the basis of values based on socio-economic factors.

The Biodiversity Conservation Action Plan put forward by Dhar and J S Singh highlights the necessity of updating status records of species, continuous monitoring and assessment from ecosystem to sub species levels, assigning value to biodiversity and a flow of finances and trained manpower.

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