A.P. forest department on a drive of rare native seeds collection for biodiversity conservation

The road to Araku peppered with thick green cover

The road to Araku peppered with thick green cover | Photo Credit: Nivedita Ganguly

One a foggy morning in April, a group of tribal men and women along with a team of forest officials step into the evergreen forests of Ananthagiri. After trekking down the slope, they walk on in single file through knee-high bushes under towering silver oak trees — all in search of wild seeds of native plants. "Summers are the best time for collecting seeds in forests," says Anant Shankar, District Forest Officer, Andhra Pradesh Forest Department. Anant is spearheading a mission to collect native plant seeds in forests bordering Visakhapatnam to maintain a gene bank and propagation of biodiversity. "We could collect five endangered species of ficus from just a small trek from the Ananthagiri forest," he says.    

Plant seeds must disperse far and wide to maintain healthy ecosystems. Wind, insects and animals act as catalysts for seeds to travel, in the process helping cleared forest patches regrow and making rare species more resistant to extinction. However, deforestation, accelerated pace of urbanisation, loss of herded livestock and wildlife have hindered the process of long-distance dispersal. Additionally, plantation of exotic species and proliferating growth of invasive plant species have further impacted the spread of native plant species. To address this, the Andhra Pradesh Forest Department has been on a 'green' mission where humans act as the main dispersal agent, transporting native plant species over long distances.

Over the past two months, forest officials have collected seeds from the forests of Araku, Paderu, Chodavaram, Devarapalli and other remote regions to be planted in a nursery in Kambalakonda Wildlife Sanctuary in Visakhapatnam. The exercise is being carried out with the help of the local villagers in the tribal belts of Andhra Pradesh. So far 110 species of seeds — some rare, endangered and threatened — have been collected as part of this exercise. "Biodiversity degradation is high in the Eastern Ghats. Within the city too, exotic species are being planted for beautification. The main focus of the project is biodiversity conservation," says Anant. 

An aerial view of the Kambalakonda Reserve Forest

An aerial view of the Kambalakonda Reserve Forest | Photo Credit: K R Deepak

After collection, the local tribal community starts processing the seeds by drying and soaking them in water and later makes them ready for planting. Once seeds are ready, soil beds are made at a certain height in rows, called primary beds. With the help of the local communities, Forest Department staff sow the seeds in the prepared beds. After germination, the saplings are collected in bags and placed in the nursery. This process is being carried out at the Technology Dissemination Centre at Kambalakonda.

Once the plants attain a certain height, the AP Forest Department plans to establish a biodiversity centre which will act as an interpretation centre on Eastern Ghats and its rich floral species. "We have reached out to the Dolphin Nature Conservation Society (DNCS) for knowledge-sharing and training of staff for the upkeep of the centre. To begin with, an area of 10 hectares has been earmarked," says Anant. DNCS has been instrumental in establishing and running the Biodiversity Park at Rani Chandramani Devi Hospital at Peda Waltair from the past two decades. "Our idea is to replicate a similar eco-system within Kambalakonda with the help of the expertise of DNCS, which will help visitors understand the importance of native plant species and why these should be nurtured and planted in urban beautification drives," says Anant. 

The thick greenery at Kailasagiri in Visakhapatnam

The thick greenery at Kailasagiri in Visakhapatnam | Photo Credit: K R Deepak

"In the recent years, Visakhapatnam has seen exotic species like Conocarpus erectus and Terminalia mantaly being planted extensively in beautification drives. This ornamental species has rapidly grown over a short span of time and does little to support biodiversity of the region," says founder of DNCS M Rama Murty. 

“According to taxonomists and horticulturists, the horizontally extending root system of these plant species are eager water absorbers. There are several other native plant alternatives that can be used in beautification drives such as Terminalia arjuna, Terminalia chebula, Anthocephalus cadamba, Mimusops elengi, Sterculia urens, Pterospermum,  Butea monosperma, Ficus, Tamarindus, Emblica and Phyllanthus,” says Murty.

Invasive species and exotic plants can alter the ecosystem and crowd native species out. "The exotic species do little to support the local ecosystem like the resident bird population," adds Anant. The Forest Department is also battling the fast-growing monoculture of Acacia auriculiformis, another invasive alien species widespread in Visakhapatnam. "This is engulfing the native plant species of many well-known spots like Kailasagiri. The hill today appears lush, but the majority species is of Acacia auriculiformis. This species gets uprooted easily and is unsuitable for a city like Visakhapatnam which is prone to cyclones," he says. The Forest Department has been addressing this issue by uprooting the species and planting native species. "But the road towards establishing a perfect ecosystem with native plant species is long. We want to invite the public to come forward as volunteers to support native plant species," says Anant. 

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Printable version | May 24, 2022 5:27:50 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/ap-forest-department-on-a-drive-of-rare-native-seeds-collection-for-biodiversity-conservation/article65438890.ece