Ecological biodiversity mapping

The present information on bioresources is mostly qualitative and not easily accessible for those who manage and use these resources. As a sub-set of a larger multi-institutional collaborative project to ATREE was involved in sampling along the eastern slopes of southern Western Ghats.

Long term monitoring and global change

Understanding changes in natural systems is usually a long term process that requires careful selection of the critical parameters that have to be monitored. In early 1990, following the global trend to understand community ecology - more so in Asian tropics, a series of monitoring programmes evolved building on some initial studies at Kakachi in the wet forest of KMTR. Part of this - phenology of trees, vegetation dynamics, pollinator and frugivore abundances and weather parameters were monitored since then. These monitoring studies have shown that inter year variations are strong and often unpredictable. Pollinator movements are predictable in terms of its occurrence but not in terms of its variability. We had one of the best years for frugivorous bats in 1994 when Palaquiumellipticum, an evergreen forest species produced a large number of fruits and fruit bats congregated in very large numbers in the Kalakad forest.

Monitoring resource use by communities

The 270 and more villages surrounding KMTR were dependent on the forests for fuelwood and grazing. We have a monthly monitoring programme on fuelwood use and grazing pressure on forests by Singampatti and surrounding villages using the footpath method. Fuelwood use from forests appears to have decreased in the last 7 years of monitoring. Grazing inside the forest does persist but at a much lower level than before.

Last biotic frontier- the forest canopy

Most interaction studies in the wet forests have been achieved by accessing the canopy. Some of the pioneering studies on forest canopies in India have been done here. Indigenous access techniques such as ladders and ladder bridges have been locally designed to facilitate such research. Canopy research at the site has also advanced from ladder access to single rope technique, and from processes-based study to applying assembly rules and niche theory to explain the canopy communities. Canopy research and long term monitoring has been, in some sense, a flagship programme of the KMTR research agenda. Canopy work in KMTR has now made possible for ATREE to host the fifth international conference on canopies in India and that would hopefully lead to setting up a ‘National Canopy Programme’.

Conservation restoration

The forests of KMTR have been exploited for centuries by various stakeholders. The scars of these are still visible, even several decades after cessation of activities like logging. Large areas now inside the reserve have been planted with eucalyptus, cardamom, teak, tea and other commercial crops. These have either been abandoned or likely to be so in the future. How do native species found in the forest colonize these abandoned areas and what management protocols need to be followed to facilitate native species colonization is one of the key areas of research pursued in the landscape.

Wetland conservation

The Agasthyamalai Mountains is the source of many perennial rivers like Tambaraparni. Through a network of reservoirs, canals, tanks, the rivers are both a source of livelihood for the farming community and an important area for local biodiversity. Wetlands around KMTR and in other places are under threat; they are encroached, polluted, silted and overgrown. We are surveying wetlands within 5 km from the reserve boundary and recording the plant and bird species in them to identify key wetlands for long term conservation. We are also exploring how these wetlands can be conserved using local communities and what policy amendments are needed for their conservation.

Owls, rodents and people

The interaction between forest and agricultural area around it provides opportunities to explore the services of the forests to the agricultural landscape. The periphery of KMTR provides suitable habitats for rodent eating owls that forage in the adjoining agricultural areas. What ecological services the owls provide to the farmers and what in turn can farmers do to sustain such services is the focus of the research on rodent eating large owls.