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Monday, May 21, 2012

May 22, The International Day for Biological Diversity

May 22 has been proclaimed by the United Nations as  The International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB) to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues. Earlier, it was first created by the Second Committee of the UN General Assembly in late 1993, 29 December, was designated as the International Day for Biological Diversity.29thDecember was the date on which the Convention on Biological Diversity was put into force. Later, to commemorate the adoption of the text of the convention 22ndMay 1992 was adopted as International Day for Biological Diversity by the Nairobi Final Act of the Conference for the Adoption of the Agreed Text of the Convention. “This was partly done because it was difficult for many countries to plan and carry out suitable celebrations for the date of 29 December, given the number of holidays that coincide around that time of year”. The theme of this year’s International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB is Marine Biodiversity.

The Concept of Biodiversity
We have immense range of forests, wetlands, grasslands, deserts, fresh water bodies, marine areas, coral reefs, hills and mountains in our world. All these areas are inhabited by vast varieties of organisms like plants, animals and microorganisms. An association of all the plants at a particular place is called as Plant Community and the association of all the animals at the same place is called as Animal Community. Both the plant and animal communities inhabit a particular place living completely merged and interacting among them. Members of a community not only interact with the members of other communities, they interact with the members of their own community and with the physical environment around them, as well. The physical environment surrounding a community is called as its habitat. Thus, a habitat is the place or area where communities live.

The association of all the communities of plants, animals and microorganisms at a particular place is called as biota or the Biotic Community. In a biotic community we may observe some species of plants and animals or microorganisms in abundance or in scarcity. Vast variability exists in the distribution or occurrence of different life forms in different habitats. The variability of life forms in a particular habitat is considered as the biodiversity of that habitat.

The variability of life forms: number of species of organisms on the global level

                                                                                 Source: UNEP-WCMC 2000

The biodiversity of an area is important for running the processes of nature in that area. If biodiversity of an area is depleted or disturbed due to some or the other reason, the processes of nature may not run properly in that area. It will lead to a condition which is called as Natural Imbalance. This natural imbalance causes further damages to nature and its biodiversity. So the balance of nature must be maintained at all costs. Since humans and also all the other organisms of the natural environment derive their livelihood and all the other things from the nature, it may be a suicidal tendency if someone disturbs this balance and causes any damage to the biodiversity. In the present chapter we are going to study about the real concept of biodiversity, its benefits and values, and its various types demarcated by ecologists.

What is Biodiversity?
 Biodiversity is a composite word made from two words- Biological and Diversity. This word was used for the first time by the Science of Conservation in the year 1975 as Natural Diversity. The word biodiversity is supposed to have been coined by W. G. Rosen in 1985 while he was planning for the National Forum on Biological Diversity held in 1986.The word biodiversity appeared first in a publication in 1988 when entomologist C. O. Wilson used it as a title of the proceedings of that forum.

According to a report of the United Nations Environmental Programme -2002(UNEP-200), biodiversity refers to the variability among living organisms from all sources including terrestrial, marine and other ecosystems, and the ecological complexes of which they are parts. This includes diversity within species, between species and, within and between ecosystems. The same opinions regarding biodiversity were also expressed in the United Nations Earth Summit in 1992 which was organized in Rio de Janeiro. The Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India reported in 1998 that biodiversity is the species richness of plants, animals and microorganisms, including their genetic make up and the communities they form.

According to another opinion, -the varieties of life forms, their variations and abundance alonwith the variation of the components of their habitat is called as biodiversity or the biological diversity.Further, some ecologists say that Biodiversity is the sum of all the different species of plants, animals, fungi and microorganisms living in the environment and the variety of habitats where they live. In a nut shell, the range of organisms, present in a given ecological community or system is called as biodiversity.

The ecologists of the world also accept another definition of biodiversity according to which-“The totality of genes, species, and ecosystems of a region is called as biodiversity.” This definition presents a unified view of the traditionally accepted three levels of the identification of biodiversity, - the genetic diversity, the species diversity, and the ecosystem diversity.

The Intrinsic Values of Biodiversity relate to the fact that humans too are parts of Nature. The concept of intrinsic value of biodiversity accepts that biodiversity is the foundation of civilization. The author of the Silent Spring- Rachel Carson asks - “Can any civilization wage relentless war on life without destroying itself and without loosing the right to be called civilized?” The integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community are values that can be saved and protected as it is evident from following lines-
A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and the beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”- Aldo Leopold; sand Country Almanac.

The evolutionary values and the Noah’s principle accept that- since humans are and were parts of nature, they benefited from the evolutionary processes. This thought can raise a question, whether humans should endanger their own milieu and the process from which they stem. The Noah’s principle is named from the biblical Noah and the principle argues that the usefulness of a species is not considered when discussing its conservation, but rather its very presence in the long history of evolution is sufficient to warrant its preservation. Since most of the loss of biodiversity has been caused by human beings through the loss of habitat, overexploitation and other activities, the Environmental ethics says that- humans must have to protect the biodiversity of nature.

The Environmental Ethics demands extension of rights to species and landforms. According to the ethical point of view, the biodiversity and land forms have their rights to exist with us because of the simple reason that its long standing existence in Nature is deemed to carry with it the ‘ unimpeachable right’ to continued existence.

The Harward Biologist E. O. Wilson is of the opinion that love of nature has been deep rooted into us by the process of Natural Selection. The religious feelings about biodiversity can be seen as a natural extension of a tendency to focus on life and life like processes. Wilson coined the word “Biophiliafor this tendency. This tendency is seen in the form of human desire to remain surrounded by biodiversity and to manage natural things and also the artificial Greenland.

The Anthropocentric values centre around economic benefits, services of ecosystems; regulations of climate by biodiversity, generation of moisture and oxygen by plants and animals; formation of soil and improvement of fertility; de-toxification of wastes by organisms; and Aesthetic and recreational benefits.

Biodiversity, if it is healthy, it provides a number of natural services to us. According to the Global Issues, these services can be summed up as below -
·         Ecosystem services, such as
·         Protection of water resources
·         Soils formation and protection
·         Nutrient storage and recycling
·         Pollution breakdown and absorption
·         Contribution to climate stability
·         Maintenance of ecosystems
·         Recovery from unpredictable events
·         Biological resources, such as
·         Food
·         Medicinal resources and pharmaceutical drugs
·         Wood products
·         Ornamental plants
·         Breeding stocks, population reservoirs
·         Future resources
·         Diversity in genes, species and ecosystems
·         Social benefits, such as
·         Research, education and monitoring
·         Recreation and tourism
·         Cultural values

Key Words:IDB, United Nations, Aldo Leopold, E. O. Wilson

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Environmental implications of Vat Savitri – a Hindu religious practice of tree worship

The no moon or Amavashya of Krishna Paksha (the dark half) of Jyeshtha or May month is called as Vat Savitri Amavashya or Bargadahi Amavashya in Hindu calendar. Married women remain on fast and worship Vat – vrikaha or the tree of banyan and Yama the God of death for continued good fortunes on this day.

A tree is regarded as Shiva in Satpath Brahman (a Hindu religious text), and Shiva has been described as lord of trees in Yajurveda. Tree takes in the poison of carbon dioxide and provides us amrit of oxygen. This is the specific character of Shiva that is found in trees.

Cutting of trees leads to imbalances in the environment which is sure to lead the world towards the destruction of the whole creation. Anyone may consider it as “rudra (angry) form of Shiva.

Since, Vat Vriksha absorbs big amount of carbon dioxide and produces big amount of oxygen. The worship of vat vriksha by Hindu ladies is very important. This consideration is further strengthened by the story of revitalization of Satyavan under the banyan tree. According to some Hindu religious texts a number of Gods live in different parts of a banyan tree- Brahma in its root system, Vishnu in the trunk and Shiva in the canopy area. This is why the Banyan tree is called as Dev Vriksha.

It is an epic story that Lord Vishnu had shown himself as a child sucking thumb of his right leg while lying on the banyan leaf when Rishi Markandeya had once requested him to show his creation or to present a glimpse of his Maya. This example shows the spiritual importance of the Banyan Tree. Lord Rama along with his wife Sita and brother Laxman had lived in the area of Panchavati for sometime during his Vanavas or exile for fourteen years. Panchavati is a beautiful place surrounded by a group of five banyan trees. This story further reveals the importance of a banyan tree reflected from the Hindu religious text.

It is said that Savitri had revitalized her husband lying under a banyan tree by the power of her Pativrat (religious or spiritual love for her husband). The story goes that Savitri was a daughter of king Ashwapati in ancient period. She had selected Satyavan, a son of Dyutmasen. Satyavan had a short life. When Savitri came to know about the short life of Satyavan from Devarshi Narad, she did not fear. When the day of death of Satyavan came nearer, she started vrata or continued fast and worship of the God of death and accompanied her husband to the forest on the day of her husband’s death. When Yama, the Lord of Death came and started going with the soul of Satyavan, she started following him. She did not return even after repeated discussions with Lord Yama.

Yama granted her the boons of getting back the eye-sight of her father-in-law and mother-in-law, but still she did not turn back. Pleased with her love and devotion for her husband, Lord Yama became happy and allowed her to ask for more boons. Then, Savitri asked to become mother of Satyavan’s sons. Thus she became successful in getting back her husband alive. Thus the vrat Vat Savitri was started by married ladies for long lives of their husbands.

The Banyan tree is reported to purify the air of atmosphere and keeps cool the surrounding. In Atharva-veda it is told that the purity of environment depends on water, air and vegetation. Plants and trees eradicate environmental pollution and purify it.

In Matsya Purana it is told that one tree is equal to ten sons (Dash Putrasamo drumah). Aitareya Brahman- an important Hindu religious text addresses trees as Prana of soul. Rig-Veda has asked people to protect trees.
It is evident that life on earth depends on trees. If the blind destruction of trees remains unchecked, the life on earth may not be existent. Then how can ladies complete their wishes of keeping their husbands alive by worshipping the Banyan trees. Vat Savitri teaches us the importance of protection of trees along with keeping us alert towards the environment.

Key Words :vat- savitri, Hindu, ladies,husband,trees

Friday, May 04, 2012

Baya - the Bird Architect

The Baya weaver birds are the master Architects in Bird’s world. They build the nest in perfect shape and size. The males Build the nest and invite the female to inspect and certify. If the likes it, then it will mate and start breeding. If it doesn’t like the nest, the male has to build a new nest. The Baya weaver male, build different nests to please different females. So, number of wives depends on the number of nest it builds.

Most of us have seen the Baya birds – peculiar birds of monsoon season. These beautiful birds are found in many states of India and of course in many countries of the world. These birds are also found all over British India, Java and Sumatra.

The baya bird is a weaver bird. It weaves its nest that hangs from a tree and swings in air. I have seen many nests of baya birds hanging from a single tree in many rural and sub-urban areas whenever I happened to pass through these areas in monsoon season.

The biological name of this bird is Ploceus philippinus. Now you may think that this bird may surely be found in Philippines and that is why it has been named so. But, it is not correct. Baya is not found in Philippines. These birds are found across South and Southeast Asia and inhabit grassland, cultivated areas, scrub and secondary growths usually near fresh or brackish water.
Naturalists have recognized three geographical races of baya birds found in different parts of India. These three races are 

·         The race philippinus is found through much of mainland India.
  • The race burmanicus is found eastwards into Southeast Asia.
  • A third race travancoreensis is darker above and found in southwest India.

These are sparrow sized (15 cm) and in their non-breeding plumage, both males and females resemble female house sparrows. They have a stout conical bill and a short square tail. Non-breeding males and females look alike, dark brown streaked fulvous buff above, plain (unstreaked) whitish fulvous below, eyebrows long buffy, bill is horn colored and no mask. Breeding males have a bright yellow crown dark brown mask, blackish brown bill; upper parts are dark brown streaked with yellow, with a yellow breast and cream buff below.

Habits of weaver birds

Baya Weavers are social and gregarious birds. They forage in flocks for seeds, both on the plants and on the ground. Flocks fly in close formations, often performing complicated skills. They are known to glean paddy and other grain in harvested fields. They occasionally damage ripening crops and are therefore sometimes considered as pests. They roost in reed-beds bordering water bodies. They depend on wild grasses such as Guinea Grass (Panicum maximum) as well as crops like paddy for both their food and nesting material. They also feed on insects. The seasonal movement of these birds is governed by the availability of food.

Nest Weaving
The breeding season of the Baya Weavers is during the monsoon. They nest in colonies of up to 20-30, close to the source of food, nesting material and water. The nests are often built hanging over water. Baya Weavers are best known for their elaborately woven nests. These pendulous nests are retort shaped, with a central nesting chamber and a long vertical tube that leads to a side entrance to the chamber. The nests are woven with long strips of paddy leaves, rough grasses and long strips torn from palm fronds. Each strip that these birds tear off; can be 20 to 60cm in length. A male bird is known to make up to 500 trips to complete a nest. The birds use their strong beaks to strip and collect the strands, and to weave and knot them while building their nests.

Nests of Baya Birds

Breeding behavior

During the breeding season the males begin building nests. The nests are partially built when the males display to passing females by flapping their wings and calling while hanging to their nests.. The females inspect and choose a nest before signaling their approval to a male. Once a male and a female are paired, the male goes on to complete the nest including the entrance tunnel, males are solely in charge of building the nests, though their female partners may join in giving the finishing touches. Studies have shown that nest location is more important than nest structure for the female decision making.

Males build many partial nests and start attracting females. A male finishes the nest to its completion only after finding a mate, after mating the female lays about 2 to 4 white eggs and incubates them. The females are solely responsible for incubating and bringing up the brood.

Key Words: Baya, weaver, architects, breeding

Image Credit: flickr.com