Not seeing the grass for the trees

Timber plantations and agriculture shrink tropical montane grassland by two-thirds over four decades in the Palani Hills, a Western Ghats Sky Island.

Timber plantations, expanding agriculture and the spread of invasive species have eaten into as much as two-thirds of natural grasslands in the Palani Hill range of Western Ghats, shows a recently published study.

A recent study by researchers from Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), IISER in Tirupati, Botanical Survey of India, Vattakanal Conservation Trust and Gandhigram Rural Institute used satellite imagery to tabulate changes in the hilly landscape over nearly 530 sq.km. of the range which is popular for the hillstation, Kodaikanal.

In this study, the researchers examined spatiotemporal patterns of landscape change over the last 40 years in the Palani Hills, a significant part of the montane habitat in the Western Ghats. Using satellite imagery and field surveys, the researchers found that 66% of native grasslands and 31% of native forests have been lost over the last 40 years.

Grasslands have gone from being the dominant, most contiguous land cover to one of the rarest and most fragmented. They have been replaced by timber plantations and, to a lesser extent, expanding agriculture. The researchers found that the spatial pattern of grassland loss to plantations differs from the loss to agriculture, likely driven by the invasion of plantation species into grasslands. Remnant grasslands have been identified by the researchers who have proposed specific recommendations for conservation and restoration of grasslands in light of current management policy in the Palani Hills, which favours large-scale removal of plantations and emphasises the restoration of native forests.

This is the summary of the research paper Not seeing the grass for the trees: Timber plantations and agriculture shrink tropical montane grassland by two-thirds over four decades in the Palani Hills, a Western Ghats Sky Island by M. Arasumani, Danish Khan, Arundhati Das, Ian Lockwood, Robert Stewart, Ravi A. Kiran, M. Muthukumar, Milind Bunyan , and V. V. Robin. Pic@Prasenjeet Yadav