Agasthya 6.3 Tree planters of a different kind
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Centre for Excellence in Conservation Science
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Ficus and culturally important trees in any landscape. They are sacred and always associated with some deity or the other. This makes it a common tree in human dominated landscapes and people have planted and protected several species of ficus for generations. The fruits of ficus, called figs are eaten by a variety of birds and mammals. The unique character of figs is its asynchrony in fruiting that allows a few trees to be in fruit all through the year. This means figs are a reliable resource and many species can depend on it for survival. It's so attractive that one of our interns Mr. Trevor who did a study on fig trees near Singampatti village found that some species of frugivorous birds and bats will visit large fig trees even when there is high human disturbance around them, say in a busy temple or in a busy city. Another interesting thing that the study showed was tree seedling or fig trees are ecologically density is significantly higher under these sacred trees compared to in the open area which implies that birds and mammals bring lots of seeds of other tree species and deposit under the fig tree allowing regeneration of a diversity of trees in the landscape. This way the animals are the real tree planters and what they need is some protection, for both the dispensers and the seedlings they disperse. Some of the oldest fig trees are found in temples or along road sides. In both these places these trees are under threat; temples grow to accommodate more people and roads to accommodate more cars, so the big fig tree is either pruned or simply cut. Many of the roads in the Tirunelveli districts were once lined with large fig trees but these have been cut to widen the roads. Would all figs meet the same fate? On a recent visit to the district and indulging in my favourite pass time of looking out of the train or bus window and dreaming of the landscape, I noticed that all the small shrines of Sodalaimadan and others had ficus trees and most of them were young may be 5-6 years old. This gave me hope that the future generation will not only see ficus trees but also the birds and bats that visit them to eat the fruits and continue to be natures gifted tree planters.



Editorial Team
Editor: Allwin Jesudasan
Associate editor: Rajkamal Goswami
Editorial Review: R. Ganesan, M. Soubadra Devy, T. Ganesh
Design and presentation: Kiran Salagame

Volume 6,  Issue 3
      November 2012

A S H O K A   T R U S T   F O R   R E S E A R C H   I N   E C O L O G Y   A N D   T H E   E N V I R O N M E N T

Tree planters of a different kind
- T Ganesh
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