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Shola grasslands

Topics Covered:

Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.

 

Shola grasslands

 

What to study?

For Prelims: What are they? Where are they found?

For Mains: Threats, need for conservation.

 

Context: Expanding plantations of exotic species, including tea, in the Nilgiris can wipe out Shola vegetation, according to a report filed by an expert committee formed by the Madras High Court.

 

Key findings:

  • This change in vegetation will result in loss of water sources and is already leading to massive landslides.
  • Invasive species like eucalyptus, tea plantations and wattle and naturalised alien species like Lantana camara, Opuntia stricta, Chromolaena odorata, Parthenium hysterophorus and Senna spectabilis have had a serious impact on the Shola forest and grasslands.

 

What are Shola Grasslands?

The Shola vegetation are tropical montane forests found in the Western Ghats separated by rolling grasslands in high altitudes.

  1. Shola grasslands consist of dwarf trees growing 25-30 feet.
  2. It is a stunted forest growths of diverse grass species.
  3. Vegetation is double layered storey with closed canopy which hardly permits a single ray of sunlight to penetrate in the natural vegetation. 
  4. Nilgiris upper region is classified as southern grassland mountain grassland. 
  5. Between 1973-2014 Shola grasslands area had seen a 66.7% decline.

 

Significance:

The Shola forests and associated grasslands store large quantities of water on the mountain ranges, thus serving as huge `water harvesting and storage structures. 

Many of the rivers in Kerala and Tamil Nadu originate from the Shola grasslands and were perennial. With depletion of Sholas and other forests, the streams that supply water to them dry up in summer.

They are rich store houses of biodiversity and  also home to extremely rich wildlife

 

Concerns:

  • Shola grasslands which are critical habitats for many species, continue to be viewed as lower priority or grassy blanks
  • As grasslands vanish or become more fragmented, local flora and fauna, particularly endemic species such as Nilgiri Pipit, may be under threat.
  • In the Palani hill range of Western Ghats.

 

Threats:

  1. The Forest Departments of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, besides private planters, were responsible for large-scale destruction of Sholas during the past two centuries
  2. Expanding agriculture – agriculture and fallow land have increased three times to 100 sq.km. in the past four decades.
  3. The spread of invasive species like acacia have eaten into as much as two-thirds of natural grasslands.
  4. Fire is also one of the major factor which not only depletes undergrowth but also facilitates the  seed germination of fast invading, weed plants by breaking seed  dormancy.
  5. Development of tourism in places such as Udhagamandalam, Ponmudi (Thiruvananthapuram district) and Munnar is also leading to destruction of Shola grasslands.

 

Need for conservation:

Shola is a very sensitive type of vegetation. Once it vanishes from its original habitat, it is very difficult to make it reappear in view of the change in climate which does not allow shola seedling to grow in open grasslands.

 

Sources: Down to earth.