The efforts of the Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute (JNTBGRI), Palode, to save an exceedingly rare tree species found in the Western Ghats region from extinction have grabbed international attention.
The JNTBGRI endeavour to conserve and propagate Buchanania barberi has been included as a case study in the Plant Conservation Report 2020, a review of global efforts made in this direction during the past decade. The report has been published by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI).
In Western Ghats
An evergreen tree that rises up to a height of 15 metres, Buchanania barberi (family Anacardiaceae) is endemic to the southern arm of the Western Ghats in Thiruvananthapuram district and is categorised ‘critically endangered’ in the IUCN Red List.
Natural and man-made causes had caused the near-extinction of this tree in the wild, says the report.
“Buchanania barberi is known from only two mature individuals with an area of occupancy in less than 5 sq km and is categorized as Critically Endangered on IUCN Red List. The species is on the verge of extinction due to low seed production (the majority of its fruits are eaten by birds), no clonal propagation, low natural seed germination, lack of seedling establishment and road expansion and development activities in the area,” the report notes.
British botanist C.A. Barber collected the first herbarium specimen of Buchanania barberi from Thiruvananthapuram district in 1904. Botanist J. S. Gamble described the species in 1916.
The species entered the Red Data Book of Indian plants in 1990 and eight years later, was listed as Critically Endangered by IUCN. The JNTBGRI scientists rediscovered this tree in 2001 in Palode, Thiruvananthapuram, incidentally in the same neighbourhood where their institute is situated.
The JNTBGRI launched a small project for the conservation of this species with a BGCI grant in 2016. In 2019, the institute received funding from the Mohamed Bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, Dr. Anurag Dhyani, scientist, Division of Conservation Biology, JNTBGRI, told The Hindu .
“From two adult trees in Palode we collected the seeds and succeeded in germinating them. We raised 100-150 seedlings at the institute itself. The rest we distributed among local schools. At JNTBGRI, we have been monitoring their growth over the past three years,” Dr. Dhyani said.
The inclusion of the recovery programme for Buchanania barberi as a case study in the Plant Conservation Report 2020 is a mark of international acceptance for the JNTBGRI effort, JNTBGRI director R. Prakash Kumar said. “Effective species recovery programmes can help change the status of a particular species at the global level,” he said.