Biodiversity in India

By: Staff Reporter
India ranks among the top ten species-rich nations and shows high endemism. As per the 4th National Report on Biological Diversity (2009), Govt. of India, in India, so far over 91,200 species of animals and 45,500 species of plants have been documented in its ten biogeographic regions.
Ecology Magazine Articles

The term ‘biodiversity’ is of recent origin; it was not until early 1990s that it appeared several times in varied reputed journals world over. Despite its increasing use in the present context, the term has remained remarkably vague and variously defined. Simply put, biodiversity can be defined as the variety of life on Earth at all levels: from genes to species to ecosystems – but more commonly biodiversity is referred to as the study of species. According to the Global Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), signed in 1992 at the Earth Summit, biodiversity is the ‘variability among all living organisms from all sources, including terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and ecological complexes of which they are part, this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems’.

The diversity of nature is the result of an evolutionary process that started about two billion years ago. It is, however, being destroyed at an incredible speed, the rain forests are a case in point. The number of species endangered by human activities and the number of natural or semi natural habitats being destroyed, fragmented or changed are constantly growing, which destabilises ecosystems and cause the loss of vital resources. The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) had proclaimed 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity (IYB) to create awareness about the understanding of threats to and the need for conservation of biodiversity.

India`s Biodiversity

India ranks among the top ten species-rich nations and shows high endemism. As per the 4th National Report on Biological Diversity (2009), Govt. of India, in India, so far over 91,200 species of animals and 45,500 species of plants have been documented in its ten biogeographic regions. Continuous surveys and explorations have added new discoveries – 41 plant species in 2007 by Botanical Survey of India (BSI) alone. The unique features of the plant diversity, among others, include 60 monotypic families and over 6000 endemic species. Besides, India is recognised as one of the eight Vavilovian centres of origin (concentrated areas where most life has originated). It has a diversity of crop plants having more than 300 wild ancestors and close relatives of cultivated plants, which are still evolving under natural conditions. India is also a vast repository of traditional knowledge associated with biological resources.


Table 1. comparative position of species biodiversity in India
Table 1. Comparative position of species biodiversity in India


India’s contribution to crop biodiversity has also been impressive with repositories of over 50,000 varieties of rice, 5,000 of sorghum, 1,000 varieties of mango, etc. The National Gene Bank, primarily responsible for ex-situ conservation of unique germplasm on long term basis, holds 3,66,933 unique accessions of plant genetic resources. India is also endowed with vast and diverse forms of domesticated animal genetic resources, besides a rich diversity of its wild relatives. The molecular characterisation has been undertaken so far only in a few animals such as cattle, sheep, pig and poultry, using internationally recommended DNA markers. India, endowed with vast inland and marine bio resources, is the third largest producer of fish in the world. A database on 2,182 fish found in Indian waters has been developed, which includes 327 fresh water species listed in IUCN threat categories and 192 endemic fishes.

The Ministry of Environment and Forests is the nodal agency in India whose primary concerns relate to programmes for the conservation of the country’s natural resources, its biodiversity, forests and wildlife. Apart from a set of legislative and regulatory measures, aimed at the preservation, conservation and protection of the environment, the National Conservation Strategy and Policy Statement on Environment and Development, 1992, National Forest Policy, 1988, a Policy Statement on Abatement of Pollution, 1992 and a National Environment Policy, 2006 also guide the Ministry’s work.

Biogeographically Diverse Landscape

The country has initiated isolating and identifying agriculturally important microorganisms based on strict quality and bio safety standards. Some of these are as follows:

■ The National Forest Policy, 1988 aims at maintaining a minimum of 33 per cent of country’s geographical area under forest and tree cover. As per the 4th National Report on Biological Diversity (2009), Govt. of India, with over 16 major forest types and 251 subtypes, the total forest and tree cover of the country constitutes 23.39 per cent of the geographical area. However, according to the 2011 Report of the Dehradun based Forest Survey of India, the recent years have witnessed decline in forest cover by about 367 sq km between 2007 and 2009.

■ The mountain ecosystems of India are largely described under two global hotspots, viz., the Eastern Himalaya, and the Western Ghats (and Sri Lanka). Of the 979 bird species recorded from the Himalayan region, four Endemic Bird Areas have been delineated for priority conservation measures and likewise, identification of ‘Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs)’ has been initiated in Western Ghats. At present, there are 137 Protected Areas (PAs) (47,208 sq km) in the Indian Himalayan Region (IHR) and 88 PAs (13,695 sq km) in Western Ghats. Over the years, there has been a steady progression in the number and area covered under PA network in both the regions.

■ Arid and semi-arid regions spread over ten states cover 38.8 per cent of India’s total geographical area. The cold arid zone located in Trans Himalayan region covers 5.62 per cent of the country. The region is a stronghold of three cat predators – the lion, leopard and tiger. The flora of the Indian desert comprises of 682 species.

■ India has a variety of wetland ecosystems ranging from high altitude cold desert wetlands to hot and humid wetlands in coastal zones with its diverse flora and fauna. At present, 115 wetlands have been identified under the National Wetland Conservation Programme (NWCP) and 25 wetlands of international importance under Ramsar Convention. About 4,445 area of the country is under mangroves. The major threats to wetland ecosystems include uncontrolled siltation, weed infestation, discharge of waste effluents, surface run off, habitat destruction, encroachment and hydrological perturbations.

Protecting Biodiversity

The major building blocks of policy frameworks, legislations and action plans that drive the country in achieving the objectives of the CBD include, among others, Biological Diversity Act (BDA), 2002, National Wildlife Action Plan (NWAP) (2002-2016), National Environment Policy (NEP) 2006, National Biodiversity Action Plan (NBAP), 2008 and National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) 2008.

Also, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is an international agreement which aims to ensure the safe handling, transport and use of living modified organisms (LMOs) resulting from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on biological diversity, taking also into account risks to human health. It was adopted on 29 January 2000 and entered into force on 11 September 2003. India is a signatory to this Convention.

New fish species Scientists at the GB Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development have discovered two new species of fish in the rivers of Arunachal Pradesh. The discovery of two new species of catfish — Erethistoides Senkhiensis and Glyptothorax Dikrongensis was made by the institute’s staffers Lakpa Tamang and Shivaji Chaudhry at Senkhi stream and Dikrong River in Papum Pare district.

Source:, Sep 13, 2011

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