An ecosystem crisis

The population of giant honeybees, jackals, birds, snakes and vulture have declined considerably due to ecological imbalances caused by destruction of habitat, expansion of agricultural activities, human interventions and climatic changes.

These ecological imbalances need to be addressed through scientific interventions and societal cooperation.

   

Climate change is the biggest ever threat to global biodiversity.. The potential change in physiology and ecological processes promoted by climate change may affect the distribution of persistent species in an environment.

There is a growing concern that management decisions for biodiversity conservation must be taken in light of potentially catastrophic effects of climate change. Ecosystems are very interconnected, one level of food chain can not be lost without affecting all other species.

Ecological imbalances affect the population of several animals in the natural ecosystems is really an established fact, as the population of most of the animals has considerably declined. The article by Balan P 2021 published in Current Science has highlighted the impending danger in the decline of population of animals due to climatic changes.

The decline in population of bees, pea fouls and jackals has been very well highlighted. This is not the case with the above mentioned species only but all other species which have a dominant role in ecosystem are declining at an alarming rate. The author has also observed a drastic decline in the number of Apisdorsatacolonies in Jammu region of Jammu and Kashmir.

This has largely been due to destruction of their nesting sites, expansion of agricultural activities, extensive use of chemicals , destruction of habitat and unprecedented variations in weather conditions.

Furthermore, ruthless destruction of colonies for honey extraction has resulted in killing of number of colonies along with their brood, even the pest control services remove the nests of Apisdorsata from urban dwellings in a very ruthless way.

This has not only affected the pollination of several cultivated and wild plants but also threatened the stability of ecosystems. Restoration of ecological balance by more plantations, restricting indiscriminate use of pesticides and avoiding destruction of habitat could help the bees to build up in nature.

I also have seen that jackal populations were in high numbers and their howling and barking calls could be easily heard in country-side most commonly, but now it has become a rare phenomenon.

The possible reasons for their decline could be changes in climate as well increased human activities which has increased considerably, encroaching upon the habitats of animals creating great ecological imbalance.

The jackals being the predators of so many animals, decline in their population shall severely impact ecological balance. The habitats which were abound of plenty of animals, now even a rat is difficult to find. Similarly, the bird species and their numbers have considerably declined.

The morning chirping of the birds has become rare due to electromagnetic radiations by the use of mobile towers. The microwaves (300 MHz to 300 GHz) emitted by cell phone towers and handsets has been found to be responsible for damaging eggs and embryos of sparrows.

The most probable cause of the decline in overall population in birds owing to mobile and cell phone base stations is the effect on reproductive success in birds.7Even the snakes which have a very predominant role in ecosystem have declined considerably. It is well documented that humans don[t like snakes in general.

However, snakes are essential predators in any ecosystem. Given their role, as both a significant predator and prey, their removal is detrimental. As vital predators in several habitats such as rice fields, their decline will have wider ecological consequences.

There has been alarming decline in snake populations in recent years due to destruction of habitats and killing of poisonous as well as non-poisonous snakes due to fear of bites.

One extreme example is dwindling population of vultures. Decline of vultures is a serious ecosystem problem with negative consequences. Rotting carcasses constitute the favourite and typical diet of vultures. Thus, through their scavenging habits, vultures provide an important link in checking and containing the spread of infectious diseases among animals and even human beings.

During past few years, vultures are vanishing not only from India but from other parts of the world. The IUCN Red Data Book has listed this bird as ‘critically endangered’. Out of the 1200 bird species found in India, 8 belong to those of the vultures.

The most common among them is the ‘Indian scavenger’, which was practically found throughout the country. However, over the years a number of species like the Indian king, long-billed griffon and Himalayan griffon have become a rare sight these days. Many have simply vanished and may be found in the high mountain ranges.

Over the last decade, long-billed vulture has declined by more than 95% and moved onto the IUCN Red Data Book list as ‘critically endangered’. Similar declines have been reported from Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, where the population is rapidly disappearing.

The present author has seen a number of unbeaten carcasses while on road journey between Jammu and the surrounding areas. The reasons for declining vulture populations include increasing urbanisation, rampant use of pesticides in agricultural production, mounting pollution and wide scale killing for their meat, increasing air traffic and lack of perching and nesting sites.

In the light of the above, it is necessary that further decline be arrested. Although no definite control measures have been known so far, the tribal people can be educated regarding the importance of vultures to stop their killings. Airport authorities can also be approached not to kill vultures relentlessly.

Captive breeding as is being followed in Himachal Pradesh needs to be started in other states also. Use of pesticides in agriculture needs to be minimised.

Proper consultation with a veterinarian before throwing out carcasses that have been treated with any non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as diclofenac, should be done as a precautionary measure. Ban of the toxic veterinary drug diclofenac may help restore populations.

These observations relate only to few species. Further research is needed to prove these observations. Balan has very clearly stated that the increase or decrease in population of a particular species may be due to an imbalance in the ecosystem.

It is important to address the ecological imbalance of various species. Ecological imbalance is caused by factors such as urbanisation, loss of biodiversity, habitat degradation and climate change due to human interference.

This can affect the proper functioning of ecosystems, ultimately affecting the population of various species, including human well-being. Therefore, ecological restoration can plays a key role in regulating or balancing the population of different species.

D.P. Abrol, Ex-Dean Faculty of Agriculture, SKUAST

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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