Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sri Lanka on world map of biodiversity hotspots

Sri Lanka  on world map of  biodiversity hotspots
Sri Lanka is the home for a rich biodiversity, which is a part of its natural wealth. The country has a high endemism - 30% of its vertebrate animals and 28% of its flowering plants are found only in Sri Lanka. This diversity and the multiple threats faced included the country’s southwestern region among the ‘biodiversity hotspots’ designated about two and half decades ago.

Biodiversity hotspot concept emerged as an effort to identify conservation priorities and it was to define the areas that are the most immediately important for conserving biodiversity. The hotspots are locations that hold especially high numbers of endemic species, in a limited area of occupation which was under imminent threat.This concept was somewhat widely discussed in the conservation arena of the country and was used for decision making and policy issues related to biodiversity. 
A recent global study has pinpointed a list of most important protected areas specially for the conservation of bird, amphibian and mammal diversity. This is a result of the work of an international team, whose study was published in the world renowned journal Science few weeks ago. The most important issue is the fact that two Sri Lankan sites are among these ‘irreplaceable protected areas’.

New study

There is no doubt about the significance of protected areas for the conservation of biodiversity and conservation action which are centered on these at present. However, some of these protected areas may be highly important in terms when we consider the threatened biodiversity they harbor. This new study is an effort to identify such protected areas.  
‘Irreplaceable protected areas’ – the protected areas the researchers mention are defined as the protected areas most critical to prevent extinctions of the world’s mammals, birds and amphibians.Through their analysis, the researchers identified 137 protected areas situated in 34 countries, as “exceptionally irreplaceable”. These sites are the home for about 627 birds, amphibians, and mammals, and 319 of them are listed as globally threatened. More than half of the distribution of these animals is confined to these protected areas.This shows that the importance of these protected areas in terms of conserving these taxa of animals, but they have also calculated the overall irreplaceability based on the all species available in these protected areas.
These are being calculated comparing each protected area’s contribution for the survival of the species. Extensive data available for 173,461 terrestrial protected areas in the world and assessments of 21,419 species on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species have been used for this analysis.

Protected areas

According to the list of the identified protected areas, Sri Lanka has two sites, namely the Central Highlands World Heritage Site and Kanneliya Forest Reserve. These areas are well known protected areas in Sri Lanka in terms of their biodiversity as well as endemism. 
Central highlands complex is a world Heritage Site designated in 2010 and consists of three main protected areas – the Peak Wilderness Protected Area, the Horton Plains National Park and the Knuckles Conservation Forest.These forests include the largest and least disturbed remaining areas of the submontane and montane rain forests of Sri Lanka and these protected areas cover an area of 537 square kilometers. More than half of the country’s endemic vertebrates, half of the country’s endemic flowering plants are found in these forests and grassland ecosystems.However, these protected areas are threatened with anthropogenic causes. For instance, the Knuckles area is highly threatened with cardamom cultivation and the Peak Wilderness is threatened with encroachments.
Kanneliya forest reserve is located in Galle District in the southwestern region of the country. Kanneliya Forest is a part of the Kanneliya-Dediyagala-Nakiyadeniya International Biosphere Reserve under the Man and Biosphere Program of UNESCO in 2004.With a 62 square kilometer area, it is mentioned as the most extensive surviving block of low land rainforest next to Sinharaja forest. However the highest percentage of endemic woody species of any wet zone forest in the country (i.e. 60%) is recorded from Kanneliya. It is rich in faunal species too.

Clear message

The key message issued by this study is clear. These identified protected areas must be considered as crucial in conservation of biodiversity as they harbour a considerable high number of endemics and threatened animals – birds, amphibians and mammals as well as other species.Hence conserving those should be a high priority in those countries.
Dr. Ana Rodrigues, one of the authors of the above research paper pointed outin an email conversation that their main aim is to raise the profile of these exceptional sites, to improve their conservation prospects. This analysis provides practical advice for improving the effectiveness of protected areas in conserving global biodiversity. There are numerous challenges in the conservation of these protected areas, despite decades of conservation efforts worldwide.As we know, conservation itself is a struggle in the socio-economic context in the world, particularly in developing countries.
This research or its relevancy to Sri Lanka was not much highlighted in Sri Lankan media. This issue should be taken in to consideration of conservation authorities, when designing conservation strategies and action as the importance of these protected areas has been defined scientifically.
Pics by Bushana Kalhara

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