Where Kerala’s birds go for higher studies

Welcoming habitats: The lesser coucal is most abundant on the campus during June and least common during October, December, January and April.  

Not just forests, even a university campus could be a haven of biodiversity, if the example of the Kerala Agricultural University (KAU) is anything to go by.

A four-year survey conducted on the KAU campus at Vellanikkara in Thrissur district has found that it is home to a third of the State’s 509 bird species, suggesting that such areas could be important refugia for biodiversity. A refugium is an area where species can survive through a period of unfavourable conditions.

The KAU campus, spread across 391 hectares, contains gardens (including a botanical one), plantations (coconut, rubber, cocoa and plantain) and fruit orchards (guava, jackfruit, mango). Scientists and students of forestry science conducted bird surveys in these habitats from 2011 to 2014, for two hours each in the morning and in the evening. The results, published in the Journal of Threatened Taxa on August 26, showed the presence of 172 bird species on the campus. These included the secretive Watercock, the threatened Oriental darter, and the migratory Common sandpiper. Two species endemic to the Western Ghats, the Malabar grey hornbill and the Crimson-backed sunbird, occur here. The campus also supports 11 species (including the Hill myna and the Indian peafowl) listed under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act.

The KAU is only about five km from the Peechi-Vazhani Wildlife Sanctuary. This could partly explain the diversity of birds on the campus, said Nameer P.O., Professor and Head of the Centre for Wildlife Studies at KAU’s College of Forestry, who guided the survey. The presence of several habitat types such as gardens, orchards, and plantations could also be a factor. “Such campuses could act as important connecting habitats between protected areas.”

Researchers got measures of bird abundances by counting the individuals of each species they sighted. Feeding this information into e-Bird, an open-access forum for bird sightings, the team came up with seasonality charts showing how common each species is during different parts of the year. “These are probably the first charts of their kind in India,” Prof. Nameer said.

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Printable version | Oct 14, 2021 1:35:10 AM |

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