Ecology Part 3 – Biodiversity


Biodiversity means the diversity of life in all its forms—the diversity of species, of genetic variations within one species, and of ecosystems. The importance of biological diversity to human society is hard to overstate. An estimated 40 per cent of the global economy is based on biological products and processes. Poor people, especially those living in areas of low agricultural productivity, depend especially heavily on the genetic diversity of the environment. The United Nations designated 2011-2020 as the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity.

Distribution of Biodiversity

There is a considerable variation of biodiversity in ocean, terrestrial water bodies and land. Roughly 15 Lakh species of macroscopic organisms is known, out of which only 15% is supported by Oceans, 5% by freshwater bodies while 80% by terrestrial environments. The following points much be noted in this context:

  • In the geological history, the Ocean biodiversity was much more than terrestrial as recently as 100 million years ago. During this period, terrestrial biodiversity has expanded dramatically.
  • Biodiversity on earth is richest in tropics or low latitudes near the equator mainly because of warm climate and high primary productivity.
  • The increase in species richness or biodiversity that occurs from the poles to the tropics, often referred to as the Latitudinal Diversity Gradient (LDG).

Marine biodiversity tends to be highest along coasts in the Western Pacific, where sea surface temperature is highest and in mid-latitudinal band in all oceans.

Importance of Biodiversity

Humans cannot exist without biodiversity as we use it directly and indirectly in a number of ways. Biodiversity plays important role in the following:

  • Formation of Soil
  • Fertility of the soil
  • Increase in overall crop yield and fodder production
  • Increase in soil nutrient remineralisation
  • Increases resistance to plant invasion
  • Decreases disease prevalence on plants
  • Increases soil organic matter

Primary Drivers of Biodiversity loss

The key primary drivers leading to loss of biodiversity include Habitat Change, Climate Change, Invasive Species, Over-exploitation of natural resources, Pollution etc.

Use and Non-Use value of Biodiversity

Biodiversity is useful for humans in both direct and indirect way. Direct use includes things like food, fibers, medicines and biological control, whilst indirect uses includes ecosystem services such as atmospheric regulation, nutrient cycling and pollination. There are also non-use values of biodiversity, such as option value (for future use or non-use), bequest value (in passing on a resource to future generations), existence value (value to people irrespective of use or non-use) and intrinsic value (inherent worth, independent of that placed upon it by humans).

International Instruments to protect biodiversity

Ex situ / In Situ Conservation

In situ conservation means the conservation of ecosystems and natural habitats and the maintenance and recovery of viable populations of species in their natural surroundings and, in the case of domesticated or cultivated species, in the surroundings where they have developed their distinctive properties.

Ex situ conservation means the conservation of components of biological diversity outside their natural habitats.

Examples of In situ Conservation

National Parks, Wild Life sanctuaries, Biosphere Reserves, Gene Sanctuaries

Examples of Ex situ Conservation

Captive Breeding, Gene Banks, Seed Banks, Zoos, Aquaria, In vitro fertilization, Cryopreservation, Tissue Culture

There are four major biodiversity related conventions as follows:

  • Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) with its two protocols viz. Cartagena Protocol and Nagoya Protocol.
  • Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) aka. Washington Convention
  • Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) aka Bonn Convention
  • Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, Especially as Waterfowl Habitats (Ramsar Convention)

All of them have all made significant contributions to the sustainable management and use of the world’s biodiversity.

Convention on Biological Diversity

Convention on Biological Diversity is a legally binding treaty , which came as an outcome of Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro on 5 June 1992 and entered into force on 29 December 1993. It is commonly known as “Biodiversity Convention“.


It’s objectives are:

  • Conservation of biological diversity (or biodiversity);
  • Sustainable use of its components; and
  • Fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from genetic resources

The idea is to develop national strategies for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. The convention affirms the following:

  1. Intrinsic value of biodiversity
  2. Biodiversity conservation as common concern of humankind
  3. Sovereign rights of States over their biological resources
  4. Responsibility of States to conserve and sustainable use their biodiversity
  5. Precautionary approach towards biodiversity conservation
  6. Vital role of local communities and women
  7. Need for provision of new and additional financial resources and access to technologies for developing countries to address biodiversity loss.’

Members and Signatories to CBD

There are 196 parties and 168 signatories to the CBD, including India. US has signed but not ratified the convention. Main concerns of United States are the CBD provisions, which call for technology transfer to developing countries. US thinks that it could threaten US intellectual property interests. Further, there is another reason that the obligations for financial aid under the CBD are vague. Strangely, the other developed countries have not shared these concerns.


The governing body of CBD is the Conference of the Parties (COP), consisting of all governments (and regional economic integration organizations) that have ratified the treaty. So far twelve meetings of COP have taken place. The last meeting was held in October 2014, in Pyeongchang, South Korea. In 2012, India had hosted COP-11 at Hyderabad.

The CBD Secretariat is based in Montreal,and it operates under the United Nations Environment Programme. There is a Subsidiary body for Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA), which has experts from member governments competent in relevant fields. It plays a key role in making recommendations to the COP on scientific and technical issues.

Importance of CBD

CBD is a land mark in international law on environment because:

  • For the first time it recognized that the conservation of biological diversity is “a common concern of humankind” and is an integral part of the development process.
  • It covers all ecosystems, species, and genetic resources.
  • It links traditional conservation efforts to the economic goal of using biological resources sustainably.
  • It sets principles for the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources, notably those destined for commercial use.
  • It also covers the rapidly expanding field of biotechnology, addressing technology development and transfer, benefit-sharing and bio-safety.
  • Since the Convention is legally binding; countries that join it are obliged to implement its provisions.

While past conservation efforts were aimed at protecting particular species and habitats, the Convention recognizes that ecosystems, species as well as genes must be used for the benefit of humans. The Convention also recognizes the close and traditional dependence of indigenous and local communities on biological resources and the need to ensure that these communities share in the benefits arising from the use of their traditional knowledge and practices relating to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

Protocols to CBD

The two protocols to CBD are Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and Nagoya Protocol.

Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety

The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety was adopted in 2000 and it is a legally binding protocol as part of CBD. Is related to “Biosafety measures”, i.e. Biosafety concerns related to import & export of Living Modified Organisms (LMOs) and commodities made from them. There are two major components of Cartagena Protocol viz. Advanced Informed Agreement (AIA) Procedure and Biosafety Clearing House.

Advanced Informed Agreement (AIA)

AIA under the Cartagena Protocol ensures that the countries are provided with the information necessary to make informed decisions before agreeing to the import of Living Modified Organisms into their territory.

Biosafety Clearing House

Biosafety Clearing-House facilitates the exchange of information on living modified organisms and to assist countries in the implementation of the Protocol.

Rights of parties of Cartagena Protocol

Every country, which is a party to Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety as the following rights:

  • To be told in advance if they are importing something that contains LMOs or commodities made of LMOs. This is done via the Advanced Informed Agreement.
  • If they don’t want to accept such imports, they will inform the world community via communicating the Biosafety Clearing House.
  • All commodities which may contain LMO elements should be clearly labeled by exporters.
  • The exporter of such commodity must inform the importing country in advance the shipment will contain LMOs. The importer must authorize such shipment.
  • Importing country has both opportunity and the capacity to assess risks involving the products of modern biotechnology.
  • The protocol allows the countries to ban import of LMOs.

Nagoya Protocol

This protocol, also known as Biodiversity Accord; saves the developing countries from “foreign illegitimate bioprospecting”. In earlier times, such bioprospectors would come, search for natural substances, develop a drug, got it patented and sold in markets at high price. No benefit was given to the country from which that natural substance was sourced.

The Nagoya Protocol was adopted in 2010 and is a legally binding protocol. It addresses the problem source countries of genetic resources by recognizing their right to get a share in benefits reaped by foreign bioprospectors.

Right of parties to Nagoya Protocol

A source country has right to benefit from any commercial application of its bioresources. Such benefits may include:

  • Share in Cash profits
  • Sample of what was collected
  • Participation or training of national researchers.
  • Transfer of biotechnology

The Nagoya Protocol reaffirms that a sovereign country has full rights on its genetic resources and use of its bioresources should be done only by mutual consent. It provides legal certainty and transparency and also covers Traditional Knowledge.

Obligations of parties to Nagoya Protocol

Under the Nagoya Protocol, there are certain requirements or obligations, which each country is required to fulfill:

  • Every country should create clear and unambiguous legal framework around access of its genetic sources. This framework should have clear laws, rules, procedures etc.
  • Every country should make clear that its consent is taken while accessing its bioresources and terms on which monetary or non-monetary benefits are to be shared. The terms should be mutually agreed and both the contracting parties must have access to justice.

Other Important Notes on Nagoya Protocol

  • The protocol is legally binding and open to only CBD ratified countries. (Excludes US and Andorra)
  • The protocol is applicable only when a country’s bio-resources are ‘used’. ‘used’ means to conduct research and development on the genetic and/or biochemical composition of genetic resources.
  • Covers derivative products of bio resources including drugs, antibodies, vitamins, enzymes, active compounds and metabolites; however, term derivatives is not explicitly expressed.
  • Does not apply to Human Genetic Material
  • Does not make reference to patents or other Intellectual property rights.

Aichi Targets

Nagoya protocol ends up with a strategic plan with 20 targets called “Aichi Target”. Objective of Aichi Target is to address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss, reduce the pressures on biodiversity, safeguard biodiversity at all levels, enhance the benefits provided by biodiversity, and provide for capacity building. Some of the Aichi targets include:

  • Bringing down rate of loss of natural habitats to half
  • Commitments to conserve 17% of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10% of marine areas and coastal areas though establishing protected areas
  • Restore of at least 15% of degraded areas
  • Special efforts to reduce the pressures faced by coral reefs.
  • Substantial increase in the level of financial resources in support of implementation of the Convention.

CBD and India’s Biodiversity Act

India enacted Biological Diversity Act in 2002 for giving effect to the provisions of the CBD. The same is true for many other developing countries also.


Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) came into force in 1975 and is the oldest convention for protection of biodiversity. It is also known as Washington Convention and is a legally Binding treaty.

This treaty control the international trade of wild animals and plant material. The objective is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten the survival of the species in the wild. This treaty protects around 5000 species of animals and 29000 species of plants against over exploitation through international trade. The protected species are placed in three appendices as follows:

  • Appendix-1: lists 1200 threatened to extinction species. International trade of animals listed in this list is banned worldwide.
  • Appendix-2: list 21000 species which are not threatened but are close to threats. The international trade of these species is strictly regulated.
  • Appendix-3: lists some 170 species which one country asked to others for help to control its trade.

We note here that CITES does not take place of the national laws on protection of wild flora and fauna.

Rather it provides a framework to be respected by each Party, which has to adopt its own domestic legislation to ensure that CITES is implemented at the national level.

Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS)

This is also known as Bonn Convention and it aims to conserve terrestrial, marine and avian migratory species throughout their range. It is an intergovernmental treaty, concluded under the aegis of the United Nations Environment Programme. It came into force in 1983.

Biodiversity Hotspots

A biodiversity hotspot is an area with unusual concentration of species, many of which are endemic. It is marked by serious threat to its biodiversity by humans. The concept was given in 1988 by Norman Myers.

Qualification for Biodiversity Hotspot

To qualify as a hotspot, a region must meet two strict criteria:

  • Endemism: it must contain at least 1,500 species of vascular plants (> 0.5 percent of the world’s total) as endemics, and
  • Loss of Habitat: it has to have lost at least 70 percent of its original habitat.

Accordingly, 34 biodiversity hotspots have been so far identified. Collectively, the Biodiversity hotspots support 60% of world’s plant and animal species with a high share of endemics and cover around 2.5% of Earth’s land surface.

List of Biodiversity Hotspots

  • North and Central America: California Floristic Province, Madrean pine-oak woodlands, Mesoamerica
  • The Caribbean: Caribbean Islands
  • South America: Atlantic Forest, Cerrado, Chilean Winter Rainfall-Valdivian Forests, Tumbes-Chocó-Magdalena, Tropical Andes
  • Europe: Mediterranean Basin
  • Africa: Cape Floristic Region, Coastal Forests of Eastern Africa, Eastern Afromontane, Guinean Forests of West Africa; Horn of Africa; Madagascar and the Indian Ocean Islands; Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany; Succulent Karoo
  • Central Asia: Mountains of Central Asia;
  • South Asia: Eastern Himalaya, Nepal; Indo-Burma, India and Myanmar; Western Ghats, India; Sri Lanka
  • South East Asia and Asia-Pacific: East Melanesian Islands; New Caledonia; New Zealand; Philippines; Polynesia-Micronesia; Southwest Australia; Sundaland; Wallacea;
  • East Asia: Japan; Mountains of Southwest China
  • West Asia: Caucasus; Irano-Anatolian


What Biodiversity Hotspots don’t do?

The Biodiversity Hotspots are often criticized on the following arguments

  • Do not adequately represent other forms of species richness (e.g. total species richness or threatened species richness).
  • Do not adequately represent taxa other than vascular plants (e.g. vertebrates, or fungi).
  • Do not protect smaller scale richness hotspots.
  • Do not make allowances for changing land use patterns. Hotspots represent regions that have experienced considerable habitat loss, but this does not mean they are experiencing ongoing habitat loss. On the other hand, regions that are relatively intact (e.g. the Amazon Basin) have experienced relatively little land loss, but are currently losing habitat at tremendous rates.
  • Do not protect ecosystem services
  • Do not consider phylogenetic diversity.

Biodiversity Hotspots in India

India shares its territories into three biodiversity hotspots viz. Eastern Himalaya, Western Ghats and Indo Burma. Out of them, Eastern Himalaya and Western Ghats are mostly located within India’s territory. In the Indo-Burma Biodiversity hotspot, India shares only a small part in north East India. The Indo-Burma Biodiversity hotspot includes parts of northeastern India, Bangladesh and Malaysia as shown in the below map.

However, Biodiversity Hotspots also work as funding regions for Conservation International for its Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF). The Northeastern India is included in a separate CEPF funding region (Eastern Himalayas Biodiversity Hotspot), while Bangladesh and Malaysia only extend marginally into the Indo-Burma hotspot. For this purpose, officially, the Indo-Burma Hotspot is defined as all non-marine parts of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam plus some parts of southern China.

This is the reason that India has only two biodiversity hotspots viz. Eastern Himalayas and Western Ghats.

Legal Framework for Biodiversity Protection

Biodiversity Act 2002

India enacted Biological Diversity Act in 2002 for giving effect to the provisions of the CBD. Objective of this act is to regulate the access to genetic resources and protection of biodiversity. This act provides for establishment of statutory bodies such as National Biodiversity Authority, State Biodiversity Boards, National and State Biodiversity Funds, Biodiversity Management Committee etc.

National Biodiversity Authority

National Biodiversity Office has been established in Chennai as per provisions of the BDA-2002.

Structure of NBA

  • One chairman, seven Ex-officio members and five non-official members; all to be appointed by central government.
  • Chairman appointed by Central Government. He / she shall be an eminent person having adequate knowledge and experience in the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and in matters relating to equitable sharing of benefits. The chairman can be removed by the Central government.
  • Seven Ex-officio members are from the following fields:
    • Agricultural Research and Education;
    • Biotechnology;
    • Ocean Development;
    • Agriculture and Cooperation;
    • Indian Systems of Medicine and Homoeopathy;
    • Science and Technology;
    • Scientific and Industrial Research;
  • Five non-official members will also be appointed. These will be persons with good domain knowledge in biodiversity.

Powers and Functions of NBA

  • All foreign nationals require approval from NBA for obtaining Biological Resources from India.
  • All Indian individuals/entities are required to seek NBA approval before transferring knowledge / research and material to foreigners.
  • Prior approval of NBA before applying for any kind of IPR based on research conducted on biological material and or associated knowledge obtained from India.

State Biodiversity Board

The Biodiversity Act 2002 mandates each state to notify its State Biodiversity Board. We note here that there is no provision for a Biodiversity Board for a Union Territory because Union Territories have been placed under National Biodiversity Authority.

Functions of State Biodiversity Board include:

  • To advise state governments on matters of biodiversity conservation
  • Regulate commercial use of bio-resources in the state by Indians. This has two exceptions:
    • Vaids and Hakims, who are practicing Indian medicinal system.
    • Local People, who use the bioresources for local use.

National Biodiversity Fund

Whatever money National Biodiversity Authority receives as fees, fines etc. and whatever money it gets as grants etc. is kept in the National Biodiversity Fund. The money from this fund is used to benefit the claimers and promotion of conservation and socio-economic development in source areas.

State Biodiversity Fund

This fund has to be created at state level to credit any grants and loans made to the State Biodiversity Board by the National Biodiversity Authority and money from other sources. The money is used in the management and conservation of heritage sites; compensating or rehabilitating any section of the people economically affected when an area is declared Biodiversity Heritage Sites; and conservation and promotion of biological resources.

Biodiversity Heritage Sites

Under Section 37 of Biological Diversity Act, 2002 (BDA) the State Government in consultation with local bodies may notify in the official gazette, areas of biodiversity importance as Biodiversity Heritage Sites (BHS).

“Biodiversity Heritage Sites” (BHS) are well defined areas that are unique, ecologically fragile ecosystems – terrestrial, coastal and inland waters and, marine having rich biodiversity comprising of any one or more of the following components:

  • richness of wild as well as domesticated species or intra-specific categories
  • high endemism
  • presence of rare and threatened species
  • keystone species
  • species of evolutionary significance
  • wild ancestors of domestic/cultivated species or their varieties
  • past pre-eminence of biological components represented by fossil beds and having significant cultural, ethical or aesthetic values and are important for the maintenance of cultural diversity, with or without a long history of human association with them

Biodiversity Management Committee

Biodiversity Management Committee is constituted by a local body within its area for the purpose of promoting conservation, sustainable use and documentation of biological diversity including preservation of habitats, conservation of land races, folk varieties and cultivars, domesticated stocks and breeds of animals and microorganisms and chronicling of knowledge relating to biological diversity.

The National Biodiversity Authority and the State Biodiversity Boards need to consult the Biodiversity Management Committees while taking any decision relating to the use of biological resources and knowledge within jurisdiction of the Biodiversity Management Committee.

The Biodiversity Management Committees may levy charges by way of collection fees from any person for accessing or collecting any biological resource for commercial purposes from areas falling within its territorial jurisdiction.

People’s Biodiversity Register

One of the most significant provisions in the Biological Diversity Act is that the Biodiversity Management Committees have been mandated to prepare People’s Biodiversity Register in consultation with local people. This register would have comprehensive information on availability and knowledge of local biological resources, their medicinal or any other use or any other traditional knowledge associated with them.

Other Notes on Biodiversity Act

  • If a dispute arises between the National Biodiversity Authority and a State Biodiversity Board, the said Authority or the Board, as the case may be, may prefer an appeal to the Central Government within such time as may be prescribed.
  • National Biodiversity Authority shall have the same powers as are vested in a civil court under the Code.
  • Violation of this act invites penalties viz. imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years, or with fine which may extend to ten lakh rupees and where the damage caused exceeds tend lakh rupees such fine may commensurate with the damage caused, or with both

Wildlife Protection Act 1972

The Wildlife Protection Act 1972 is first umbrella act to protect plants as well as animals. It was last amended in 2006 to give statutory status to Project Tiger. Currently, Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Bill, 2013 is pending in parliament.

Key Provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act

The act extends to the whole of India, except the State of Jammu and Kashmir which has its own wildlife act. It defines five types of protected areas viz. National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries, Community Reserves, Conservation Reserves and Tiger Reserves. The act has six schedules with varying degrees of protection to different kinds of animals and plants.

Wild Life Sanctuary

A wildlife sanctuary is defined by State Government via a Notification. There is no need to pass a legislation (act) by the state assembly to declare a wildlife sanctuary. Fixation and alternation of boundary can be done by state legislature via resolution. No need to pass an act for alternation of boundaries. No alternation of boundaries in wildlife sanctuaries can be done without approval of the NBWL (National Board of Wildlife) Limited human activities are permitted in the sanctuary.

National Parks

Similar to the Wildlife Sanctuaries, a National Park is defined by state government via notification. The state government can fix and alter boundaries of the National Parks with prior consultation and approval with National Board of Wildlife. There is no need to pass an act for alternation of boundaries of National Parks. No human activities are permitted in a National Park.

Similarities / Difference between a National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary


Commercial exploitation of forest produce in both areas is NOT allowed; except for local communities. No wild mammal, bird, amphibian, reptile, fish, crustacean, insects, or coelenterates listed in four Schedules of the WLPA can be hunted either within or outside both of them, and also other conservation areas.


No grazing or private tenurial rights land rights are allowed in National Parks. In Wildlife sanctuaries, they may be provided at the discretion of Chief Wildlife warden.

Conservation Reserves and Community Reserves

These areas provide a greater role and opportunity for local communities, stakeholders and civil society to protect many areas of conservation value that cannot be designated under strict categories such as wildlife sanctuaries or national parks.

Tiger Reserves

Tiger Reserves are declared by National Tiger Conservation Authority via Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Act, 2006 under centrally sponsored scheme called Project Tiger. To declare an area as Tiger Reserve, the state governments can forward their proposals in this regard to NTCA. Central Government via NTCA may also advise the state governments to forward a proposal for creation of Tiger Reserves. Tiger Reserves are managed by National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA). No alternation of boundary can be done without the recommendation of National Board for Wild Life and without the advice of the Tiger Conservation Authority.

Schedules of the Wild Life Protection Act

There are six schedules in wildlife protection act with varying degrees of protection. Out of the six schedules, Schedule I and part II of Schedule II provide absolute protection and offences under these are prescribed the highest penalties. The penalties for Schedule III and Schedule IV are less and these animals are protected. Schedule V includes the animals which may be hunted. Such animals include Common crow, Fruit bats, Mice & Rats only. Schedule VI contains the plants, which are prohibited from cultivation and planting. These plants are as follows

  • Beddomes’ cycad (Cycas beddomei)
  • Blue Vanda (Vanda soerulec)
  • Kuth (Saussurea lappa)
  • Ladies slipper orchids (Paphiopedilum spp.)
  • Pitcher plant (Nepenthes khasiana)
  • Red Vanda (Rananthera inschootiana)]

Whose permission is needed to hunt a man-eater?

India does not have a robust scientific or policy mechanism to minimise tiger human conflicts. A Standard Operating Procedure was released by the National Tiger Conservation Authority a few years back to deal with emergency arising due to straying of tigers to human settlements. The guidelines prohibit killing the tiger unless it has been declared a maneater. Only the chief wildlife warden of a state can permit hunting of man-eaters.

Biosphere Reserves

Biosphere reserves are areas of terrestrial and coastal ecosystems which promote the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use. They are internationally recognized within the framework of UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere (MAB) programme and nominated by national governments. There are over 500 biosphere reserves in over 100 countries around the world.

Selection Criteria of Biosphere Reserves

The concept of Biosphere Reserves, especially itsz onation, into Core Area(s) (dedicated to conservation), Buffer Area(s) (sustainable use) and Transition Area(s) (equitable sharing of benefits) were later broadly adopted under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD ) process which entered into force on 29th December, 1993. There are primary and secondary criteria to select a biosphere reserve as follows:

Primary Criteria:

  • A site that must contain an effectively protected and minimally disturbed core area of value of nature conservation and should include additional land and water suitable for research and demonstration of sustainable methods of research and management.
  • The core area should be typical of a biogeographical unit and large enough to sustain viable populations representing all trophic levels in the ecosystem.

Secondary Criteria

  • Areas having rare and endangered species
  • Areas having diversity of soil and micro-climatic conditions and indigenous varieties of biota.
  • Areas potential for preservation of traditional tribal or rural modes of living for harmonious use of environment.

Legal Backing to Biosphere Reserves

There is no comprehensive legislation in India dealing with all aspects of the Biosphere Reserves. The wildlife protection act is complementary to the setup of Biosphere Reserves to the extent that it has considerable flexibility and latitude to establish such reserves. It does not define a Biosphere Reserve.

Financial Assistance

The Ministry of Environment and Forest provides financial assistance to the respective State governments for conservation of landscape and biological diversity and cultural heritage.

Does MAB programme provide any funds for Biosphere Reserves?

Normally, the MAB-related activities are nationally financed. However, some seed funding is provided to assist countries in developing projects and/or to secure appropriate partnership contributions. Further, not all Biosphere reserves of the country are come under the Man & Biosphere Programme.

Differences between Biosphere Reserves and National Parks/ Sanctuaries

The Key differences are as follows:

  • While National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries, Conservation Reserves, Community Reserves and Tiger Reserves are established as per provisions of Wildlife Protection Act, there is no law as such under which Biosphere Reserves are established.
  • No grazing or private tenurial rights land rights are allowed in National Parks. In Wildlife sanctuaries, they may be provided at the discretion of Chief Wildlife warden. However limited economic activity (sand and stone mining) is permitted in biosphere reserves. Further, Biosphere reserves serve as ‘living laboratories’ for testing out and demonstrating integrated management of land, water and biodiversity.
  • While wildlife sanctuaries and national parks are set up for the protection of mammals normally, biosphere reserves envisage protection of plant species, Invertebrates and biotic community as a whole.

Number of Biosphere Reserves in India

There are 18 notified Biosphere reserves in India. As of now, only Nine viz. Nilgiri (2000), Gulf of Mannar (2001), Sunderban (2001), Nanda Devi(2004), Nokrek (2009), Pachmarhi(2009), Similipal (2009), Achanakmar-Amarkantak Biosphere Reserve (2012) and Great Nicobar Biosphere Reserve (2013) are in the UNESCO’s MAB world network.

List of Biosphere Reserves in India

Biosphere reserves of India (area wise)
Year Name Location State Type Key fauna Area (km2)
1 1986 Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve Part of WaynadNagarholeBandipur and MudumalaiNilamburSilent Valley Tamil NaduKerala and Karnataka Western Ghats Nilgiri tahrlion-tailed macaque 5520
2 1988 Nanda Devi National Park & Biosphere Reserve Parts of Chamoli DistrictPithoragarh District & Bageshwar District Uttarakhand WesternHimalayas Snow LeopardHimalayan Black Bear 5860
3 1989 Gulf of Mannar Indian part of Gulf of Mannar extending from Rameswaram island in the North to Kanyakumari in the South of Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka Tamil Nadu Coasts Dugong 10500
4 1988 Nokrek In west Garo Hills Meghalaya East Himalayas Red panda 820. Parth tution
5 1989 Sundarbans Part of delta of Ganges and Brahmaputra river system West Bengal Gangetic Delta Royal Bengal tiger 9630
6 1989 Manas Part of KokrajharBongaigaonBarpetaNalbariKamrup and Darrang Districts Assam East Himalayas Golden langurred panda 2837
7 1994 Simlipal Part of Mayurbhanj district Odisha Deccan Peninsula Gaurroyal Bengal tigerAsian elephant 4374
8 1998 Dihang-Dibang Part of Siang and Dibang Valley Arunachal Pradesh Eastern Himalaya Mishmi TakinMusk Deer 5112
9 1999 Pachmarhi Biosphere Reserve Parts of Betul DistrictHoshangabad District and Chhindwara District Madhya Pradesh Semi-Arid Giant squirrelflying squirrel 4981.72
10 2005 Achanakmar-Amarkantak Biosphere Reserve Part of AnnupurDindori and Bilaspur districts Madhya PradeshChhattisgarh Maikala Hills Four-horned antelopeIndian wild dogSarus craneWhite-rumped vulturePhilautus sanctisilvaticus (Sacred grove bush frog) 3835
11 2008 Great Rann of Kutch Part of KutchRajkotSurendranagar and Patan Districts. It is the largest Biosphere Reserve in India. Gujarat Desert Indian wild ass 12454
12 2009 Cold Desert Pin Valley National Park and surroundings;Chandratal and Sarchu & Kibber Wildlife Sancturary Himachal Pradesh Western Himalayas Snow leopard 7770
13 2000 Khangchendzonga Parts of Kangchenjunga Sikkim East Himalayas Snow leopardred panda 2620
14 2001 Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve NeyyarPeppara and Shenduruny Wildlife Sanctuaryand their adjoining areas KeralaTamil Nadu Western Ghats Nilgiri tahrelephants 3500.08
15 1989 Great Nicobar Biosphere Reserve Southern most islands of Andaman and Nicobar Islands Andaman and Nicobar Islands Islands Saltwater crocodile 885
16 1997 Dibru-Saikhowa Part of Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts Assam East Himalayas Golden langur 765
17 2010 Seshachalam Hills Seshachalam Hill Ranges covering parts of Chittoor and Kadapa districts Andhra Pradesh Eastern Ghats Slender Loris 4755
18 2011 Panna Part of Panna District and Chhatarpur District Madhya Pradesh Catchment Area of the Ken River Tigerchitalchinkarasambhar and sloth bear 2998.98


Rationale Behind Biosphere Reserves

It appears that the Biosphere reserves mean the duplication of the conservation efforts of the protected areas, but it is not so. The idea is the “Biosphere Reserves” is to strengthen the “National Efforts” in conformity to the “International Practices”. The basic truth is that “most of the National parks in India were previously hunting grounds. Most of the wildlife sanctuaries are declared by the state governments out of a vague idea of protecting a particular species”. The present domestic legislations don’t represent a “systematic selection of the ecosystems”. Neither the wildlife sanctuaries nor the national parks focus on conservation of plant species, Invertebrates and biotic community as a whole. This is the major shortcoming of the present system. Further _

  • The focus of WS/NP is on conservation of mammals. No focus to the other species which may be ecologically more vital.
  • The focus of the MAB and Biosphere Reserves is to protect the “threatened Habitats” and not “a particular threatened species”.
  • Through an Internationally recognized mechanism, the Research and Monitoring of the existing protected areas can be carried out on regular basis.

How a Biosphere Reserve is declared?

Biosphere reserves are declared by state or central governments by notification. Once established, the National Governments can nominate them under the UNESCOs Man & Biosphere (MAB) Programme. This programme was launched in 1971. If UNESCO accepts the proposal, the biosphere reserve is entered World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR) under the MAB Programme. Within this network, exchanges of information, experience and personnel are facilitated. Department of Environment is nodal agency for Biosphere Reserve programmes. It carries out detailed scientific investigation, maps the biogeographical regions and vegetation types, identified the critical areas. Botanical Survey of India and Zoological Survey of India assist in this work. The central Government assumes the responsibility of meeting the costs of set up while the state government would set up desired machinery.

Critical Wildlife Habitats

The Critical Wildlife Habitats have been envisaged in Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. This act defines the Critical Wildlife Habitats (CWH) as the “areas of national parks and sanctuaries where it has been specifically and clearly established, case by case, on the basis of scientific and objective criteria, that such areas are required to be kept as inviolate for the purposes of wildlife conservation…”.

The above definition makes it very clear that the Critical Wildlife Habitats are absolutely free of human presence. But the same act duly recognizes the traditional rights of the Forest dwellers.

How CWHs are designated?

The power to notify the rules to designate a CWH rests withM inistry of Environment and Forests. The State Government are needed to initiate the process for notification of a critical wildlife habitat by submitting an application on a case by case basis, to the Ministry of Environment and Forests, which is the nodal agency under the said Act. Critical Wildlife Habitats are thus, declared by Central Government ONLY.

CWH and Rights of Forest Dwellers

The rights of the forest dwellers is a key issue related to the Critical Wildlife Habitats, mainly because they are envisaged as totally inviolate areas. Before a critical wildlife area is notified, not only do the rights of the tribals and forest dwellers have to be settled, but also scientific evidence has to be provided to establish that people’s presence would adversely impact the wildlife in area. We note here that consent of affected Gram Sabha is also required for creating these inviolate areas or critical wildlife habitats. The free informed consent of the Gram Sabha must be given before any relocation of the forest dwellers is carried out.

Conservation Projects in India

Project Tiger

Around 70% of tigers of the world are in India. As per official data of Tiger Census-2014, there are more than 2200 tigers in India.

States and Landscapes with Tiger Population

As per Status of Tigers in India, 2014, there are 18 states in India with Tiger Population. The entire area of tiger population has been divided into five tiger landscape complexes viz. Shivalik Hills & Gangetic Plains, Central Indian Landscape & Eastern Ghats, Western Ghats, North-Eastern Hills & Bhramaputra Flood Plain and Sundarbans.

As per 2014 Tiger Census, maximum number of Tigers are found in Karnataka followed by Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh. The Mudumalai-Bandipur-Nagarhole-Wayanad complex holds the world’s single largest tiger population currently estimated over 570 tigers.

Parts of a Tiger Reserve

Each tiger reserve has two areas viz. Core area (Critical Area) and Buffer Area. Core area is kept as inviolate as possible, without affecting the rights of the Scheduled Tribes or such other forest dwellers. Buffer Area is peripheral to the Core area. It has a lesser degree of habitat protectionand promotes coexistence between wildlife and human activity. Please note that Gram Sabha is consulted in management of buffer areas.

Alteration of Boundaries of Tiger Reserves

The alternation of boundaries of Tiger Reserves is done via notification by state governments. Prior approval of NTCA and National Board for Wild Life is needed. Kindly note that the State Government has power to de-notify a tiger reserve in public interest but only with the prior approval of the Tiger Conservation Authority and the National Board for Wild Life.

Special Tiger Protection Force (STPF)

This is a Centrally sponsored scheme in which the central government provides 100% financial assistance to the states for raising, arming and deploying the STPF in sensitive tiger reserves. Karnataka was the first state to raise a STPF.

India’s Tiger Reserves

As of January 2016, there are 48 Tiger Reserves in India. Corbett National Park was the first national park of India to be covered under Project Tiger on April 1st, 1973.

  • Nagarjunsagar-Srisailam is the largest tiger reserve in terms of Area, while currently, Bor Tiger Reserve in Maharastra is smallest in area.
  • Manas (Assam), Similipal (Orissa), Sunderbans (West Bengal) are Biospheres having Tiger reserves.
  • Manas Tiger Reserve is the only tiger reserve which is also a World Heritage Site

List of Tiger Reserves


S.No. Tiger Reserve State Total Area (km2)
1 Bandipur Karnataka 1456
2 Jim Corbett Uttarakhand 1288
3 Kanha Madhya Pradesh 2052
4 Manas Assam 3151
5 Melghat Maharashtra 2769
6 Palamau Jharkhand 1130
7 Ranthambore Rajasthan 1411
8 Similipal Odisha 2750
9 Sunderbans West Bengal 2585
10 Periyar Kerala 925
11 Sariska Rajasthan 1213
12 Buxa West Bengal 758
13 Indravati Chhattisgarh 2799
14 Namdapha Arunachal Pradesh 2053
15 Dudhwa Uttar Pradesh 2202
16 Kalakkad-Mundanthurai Tamil Nadu 1602
17 Valmiki Bihar 899
18 Pench Madhya Pradesh 1180
19 Tadoba Maharashtra 1728
20 Bandhavgarh Madhya Pradesh 1598
21 Panna Madhya Pradesh 1579
22 Dampa Mizoram 988
23 Bhadra Karnataka 1064
24 Pakhui Arunachal Pradesh 1198
26 Nameri Assam 344
27 Satpura Madhya Pradesh 2133
28 Anamalai Tamil Nadu 1480
29 Udanti-Sitanadi Chhattisgarh 1843
30 Satkosia Odisha 964
31 Kaziranga Assam 1174
32 Achanakmar Chhattisgarh 914
33 Kali Karnataka 1098
34 Sanjay-Dubri Madhya Pradesh 1675
35 Mudumalai Tamil Nadu 689
36 Nagarahole Karnataka 1206
37 Parambikulam Kerala 644
38 Sahyadri Maharashtra 1166
39 Biligiriranga Karnataka 575
40 Kawal Telangana 2019
41 Sathyamangalam Tamil Nadu 1408
42 Mukandra Hills Rajasthan 760
43 Nawegaon-Nagzira Maharashtra 1895
44 Nagarjunsagar-Srisailam Andhra Pradesh 3296
45 Amrabad Telangana 2611
46 Pilibhit Uttar Pradesh 730
47 Bor Maharashtra 816
48 Rajaji Uttarakhand 1075
49 Orang Assam 492
50 Kamlang Arunachal Pradesh 783


National Tiger Conservation Authority

Project Tiger was launched in 1973 with nine reserves in 1973-74. The project was first started as a central scheme. Later, it was transformed into Centrally Sponsored Scheme, whereby centre and states shared equal expenditures. The National Tiger Conservation Authority was launched in 2005, following recommendations of the Tiger Task Force. It was given statutory status by 2006 amendment of the Wildlife Protection Act.

Structure of NTCA

Environment Minister is the Chairman of the NTCA. Below chairman are eight experts or professionals having qualifications and experience in wildlife conservation and welfare of people including tribals, apart from three Members of Parliament (1 Rajya Sabha, 2 Lok Sabha). The Inspector General of Forests, in charge of project Tiger, serves as ex-officio Member Secretary.


NTCA is the overarching body for conservation of tigers in India. Its main administrative function is to approve the Tiger Conservation Plan prepared by the State Governments and then evaluate and assess various aspects of sustainable ecology and disallow any ecologically unsustainable land use such as, mining, industry and other projects within the tiger reserves.

As per the WLPA, every State Government has the authority to notify an area as a tiger reserve. However, the Tiger Conservation Plans sent by state government need to be approved by the NTCA first. Alternatively, Central Government via NTCA may advise the state governments to forward a proposal for creation of Tiger Reserves. Every year, the Central Government puts the annual report of the National Tiger Conservation Authority in each House of Parliament. Other Functions of NTCA are as follows:

  • Regulation and standardization of tourism activities
  • Provide for management focus and measures for addressing conflicts of men and wild animals.
  • Provide information on protection measures.
  • Ensure that the tiger reserves and areas linking one protected area or tiger reserve with another protected area or tiger reserve are not diverted for ecologically unsustainable uses, except in public interest and with the approval of the National Board for Wild Life and on the advice of the Tiger Conservation Authority.
  • Facilitate and support the tiger reserve management in the State.
  • Ensure critical support including scientific, information technology and legal support for better implementation of the tiger conservation plan.

Project Snow Leopard

Taxonomically, snow leopards belong to the family of cats called Felideae. However, until few years ago, it was not kept in the genus of Big cats (Panthera) and was named Uncia uncia. In recent times, it has been seen as one of the Big Cats, but still there is one difference between the snow leopard and other Big Cats such as Lion, Tiger and Leopard that – it does not roar, thanks to its different structure of vocal chords and absence of specially adapted larynx and hyoid apparatus.

Distribution of Snow Leopards

It is found in Central Asia and South Asia. Being a predator like tiger, snow leopard is apex predator of ecological pyramid. There are around 7000 snow leopards worldwide.

In India, they are between 500 to 700 found in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh states.

Snow Leopard has suffered mainly on account of its relatively smaller population (less number of reproducing adults) and also because of man-animal conflict. It is listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Project Snow Leopard

This project was launched in 2009 to safeguard and conserve India’s unique natural heritage of high altitude wildlife populations and their habitats by promoting conservation through participatory policies and actions.

Save Our Snow Leopards (SOS)

Save Our Snow Leopards’ (SOS) is a project launched by WWF India, in partnership with Tata Housing Development Company in January 2014.

Ladakh becoming role model in protecting Snow leopard

The Ladakh region is setting an example for the rest of the country, to protect the endangered Snow Leopard. It is estimated that there are more than 400 wild cats within the Indian Territory in Ladakh. With the help of local people, the Wildlife Department and several Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) succeeded in preventing man-animal conflict and discouraged killing of the exotic wild cats (or Snow leopards) found in Trans Himalayan-Karakorum mountains of the region and central Asia.

Project Elephant

Taxonomically, elephants belong to family Elephantidae. There are ONLY two genera extant from this species viz. Elephas and Loxodonta. Genus Elephas is of the Asian Elephants. There is only one surviving species of this Genus viz. Elephas maximus and elephants of this species are found in natural conditions only in Asia. This species has three subspecies as follows:

  • Indian Elephant: Elephas maximus indicus
  • Sri Lankan Elephant: Elephas maximus maxicus
  • Mainland Asian Elephants: Elephas maximus sumatranus

Asian elephants are the largest living land animals in Asia. The key differences between Asian Elephants and African Elephants are shown in below table. (Key differences marked red)

Conservation of Elephants in India – Project Elephant

In our country there are approximately 30 thousand elephants spread in 16 Elephant states. Maximum number of elephants is in Kerala, followed by Karnataka and Assam. Project Elephant was launched in 1991-92 as a centrally sponsored scheme to assist the States on three key areas

  • Protection of wild elephants, their habitat and corridors
  • Address the issue of man-animal conflict and
  • welfare of domesticated elephants

This Project Elephant is being implemented in 13 states.

Elephant Reserves

A total of 28 elephant reserves covering 58000 km² have been so far notified in India by the state governments. They cover not only the forest patches of different kinds but also villages, townships, agricultural land, tea plantations and revenue land. Sighbhum Elephant Reserve in Jharkhand was the first reserve to be notified in 2001. Out of 28 ERs, maximum number is in Assam and Odisha with five each.

Elephant Corridors

Elephant corridors are narrow strips of land that allow elephants to move from one habitat patch to another. There are 183 identified elephant corridors in India. Out of this 138 are State Elephant Corridors, 28 Inter-State Elephant Corridors and 17 are International Elephant Corridors. Among state corridors, maximum number of them are located in Meghalaya. Among, inter-state corridors, maximum are shared by Jharkhand and Odisha. Maximum International corridors India shares with Bangladesh.

Elephant as National Heritage Animal of India

On the basis of recommendations from the In 2010, Elephants have been declared as national heritage animal by the government with an aim to step up measures for their protection. The status was recommended by a task force on elephant project. The government is still mulling over to

amend the Wildlife (Protection) Act to pave way for setting up of National Elephants Conservation Authority (NECA) on the lines of the NTCA that has been constituted for the tiger conservation.

Project Hangul

‘Hangul’ (Kashmiri stag) is the only surviving species of the red deer family in Kashmir. The rare animal’s strength fell from 5,000 in the beginning of last century to 900 in 1980s, when militancy broke out in the border state. With the help of World Wildlife Fund’s ‘Project Hangul’ started in the 70’s, their population had gone to 340 by the 80’s. But it was short lived. Many factors are responsible for the failure of this project.

  1. There was no local people participation in the project. It was carried without the involvement of local communities such as Gujjars, Bakerwals, Nambardars, Chowkidars and Patwaris.
  2. The project was confined focus around Dagwan, in a radius of 10 kms crying foul of Sheep breading Farm.
  3. The government departments allowed establishing Cement factories around Dachingam National Park. They disturbed the wild areas.
  4. There was illegal and reckless unscientific extraction of limestone stretching over miles after miles was carried under its nose. Those areas created death traps for animals.
  5. The onset of militancy dealt a blow to conservation efforts.


Later the project was rechristened as “Save Kashmir’s Red Deer Hangul” in 2009. Another attempt to save the Hangul was to breed it in captivity. Funds were sanctioned for captive breeding. Under the Species Recovery Programme, conservation breeding centres are opened at Sikargah Tral, Pulwama District and Kangan. But there not much progress on increasing the numbers.


January 24, 2018

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