To fill knowledge gaps to enable civil society and government to better manage ecosystems under global change. In objective terms, this would translate to:
The degradation of natural ecosystems is of particular concern for several reasons. Changes are rapid, and, when associated with loss of species or ecosystems, irreversible. The loss of natural ecosystems also results in loss of ecosystem services such as clean water from watersheds, retention of soil and soil fertility, sequestration of carbon and provision of pollinators and natural enemies of pests. Value of these ecosystems services often exceeds the annual gross domestic product of countries. In a country like India, millions of people rely on services and products from natural ecosystems to sustain their livelihoods. Our understanding of biodiversity in natural ecosystems in terms of patterns of occurrence, and their role and functions remain so woefully inadequate that we are unable to fully comprehend the consequences of its loss. With climate change, rapid penetration of markets, increasing urbanization, globalization and increasing spread of invasive species, biodiversity crisis is likely to get worse with far-reaching impacts on human societies. Therefore linking science with the effective management of complex tropical ecosystems is a critical necessity, although it is still in its infancy.
Accurately cataloging organisms using the science of taxonomy is fundamental to describing life on earth and to the conservation of biodiversity. There are many unknown species within the ecological communities that are still awaiting taxonomic scrutiny and whose functions and roles in ecosystems through coevolved plant–animal interactions are largely unknown.
There also are emerging threats to ecosystem functioning and biodiversity from climate change, invasive species and disease. We are only beginning to understand the dynamics of social–ecological systems that view human use and interventions, as in use of fire, as part of complex ecological dynamics over time and space, rather than as imposed constraints and conditions on static ecosystems. Finally, we are still largely ignorant about the synergies and feedbacks between bio-physical processes such as climate variability and human activities in shaping the dynamics and response of ecosystems and biodiversity over time and space. This programme will address these knowledge gaps using disciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches, and work towards a more scientifically informed and socially just conservation. This large programme has several working groups that focus on smaller, cohesive areas such as Biosystematics and Conservation Genetics, Monitoring and Managing Ecosystem Change, and Urban Ecology.
There are six working groups under the Ecosystems and Global Change Programme:
This group teaches and practices research in systematics and conservation of insect species, molluscs, amphibians and plants.
The impact of global and regional climate changes on vegetation need to be carefully studied, particularly for biodiversity hotspots and forested landscapes that support the diverse biodiversity as well as livelihoods of human communities. Changes in ecosystems have cascading effects that need to be properly understood and quantified. With climate change already upon us, changes in species distributions, seasonal patterns, and ecosystem processes are already being documented. This working group conducts research in two biodiversity hotspots of India – the Western Ghats and the Eastern Himalayas.
The working group objectives are:
The demands of human society on natural resources and ecosystems have considerably altered the socio-ecological systems either directly or indirectly. Such changes are often not recorded and monitored systematically over space and time. This working group will address these issues in the following ways:
Team: Ankila Hiremath
Invasive species, fire and other disturbances are examples of a whole suite of direct or indirect human and biophysical influences on socio-ecological systems. The objectives of this working group are:
Urbanisation, like climate change, has been identified as a major threat to biodiversity (Srinivasulu 2008). By 2030 more than 60% of the world’s population is expected to live in cities (Dietz et al 2007). Cities depend on nature and a wider hinterland from where they draw a variety of inputs and also flush their outputs, thus leaving behind a large ecological footprint. The current paradigm is that cities are net consumers of ecosystem services that are generated elsewhere in rural and natural landscapes. However, cities do have the potential to generate both ecosystem services and sustain biodiversity. Urban biodiversity and the associated ecosystem services have been ignored and undervalued because ecologists have focused only on large wild habitats and rare species. However, with rapid urbanization, the challenge is to build the native biodiversity and generate ecosystem services such as water and carbon sequestration within the urban landscape. This could be done by involving multiple stakeholders like the local municipality, architects and, most importantly, citizens in the neighbourhood. We also need to follow the concept of adaptive co-management.
The Urban ecology programme at ATREE is currently collaborating with the Stockholm Resilience Centre to focus on quantifying and mapping biodiversity and ecosystem services in Bangalore and work with government and citizens towards more sustainable urban socio-ecological systems. It is also working with a corporate to reduce carbon footprint and measure biodiversity on office campuses and working with another corporate in building awareness about carbon sequestration and biodiversity amongst professional staff.
Conservation planning is the design of protected areas and networks of protected areas at all ecological, spatial and governance scales, ranging from sacred groves involving a village panchayat to large landscapes protected and managed by the state. Protected areas have largely been established and maintained by the state. In India, the design, location and management of protected areas have often not been informed adequately by either good ecological science or traditional, social, anthropological, cultural and economic knowledge and insights.
The Conservation planning and society working group at ATREE will incorporate a combination of ecological, forest rights, political ecology and economic perspectives to inform the design and management of protected areas with the involvement of local and regional stakeholders. This may require planning of testing alternate models of protected areas that are based on integration of ecological, socio-cultural and socio-economic perspectives and that are also synergistic with available legal frame-works such as the Forest Rights Act, as well as the provision for community and conservation reserves under the Wildlife Protection Act.