IN SCHOOL

The Western Ghats: biodiversity hotspot

A view of the forest landscape, of Dandeli in Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka, in the Western Ghats region of North Karnataka.Photo: K Murali Kumar

A view of the forest landscape, of Dandeli in Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka, in the Western Ghats region of North Karnataka.Photo: K Murali Kumar   | Photo Credit: K. Murali Kumar

Older than the Himalaya mountains, the mountain chain of the Western Ghats are well known for their rich and unique flora and fauna.

It is not without reasons that Western Ghats is named one of the Hottest Biodiversity Hotspots. It supports the life of 7,402 species of flowering plants,1814 species of non-flowering plants, 139 mammal species, 508 bird species, 179 amphibian species, 6000 insects species and 290 freshwater fish species. And many are still to be discovered.

Western Ghats is a mountain range that runs through the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Running parallel to the western coast and along the western edge of the Deccan Plateau, the hills cover over 1,60,000 square kilometre. And it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Western Ghats block southweat monsoon winds from reaching the Deccan Plateau and are consequently an area of high rainfall, particularly on their western side.

Geological studies have found the west coast broke away from Madagascar 100 million years ago and appeared as cliff with an elevation ranging at 3,300 feet. Anamudi, the highest peak here, is located in Kerala. Outside of the Himalayas, the mountain at an elevation of 2,695 is also the highest peak in India.

The major river systems originating in the Western Ghats include Godavari, Kaveri, Krishna, Thamiraparani and Tungabhadra. They are lost faster than other species. The area covers five percent of India's land with 27 per cent of all species of higher plants in India are found here and 1,800 of these are endemic to the region.

Human activity

Prior to the settlement of humans, the Western Ghats were well-covered in dense forests that provided perfect condition for the survival of diverse flora and fauna as well as served as a natural habitat for native tribal people. Cultivating the land and building settlements here was not that easy for the people from the plains. But after the arrival of the British, large swathes of territory were cleared for agricultural plantations and timber. The forest has been severely fragmented due to human activities. It is said that only 10 per cent of the forest remains today. People started clearing the forest for the growing of tea, coffee, and teak plantations.

Due to human activity, species that are rare, endemic and habitat specialists are more adversely affected.

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