Prioritizing freshwater habitats for conservation of biodiversity in India

open defense of PhD thesis by Madhushree Munsi, PhD student, ATREE

@ATREE auditorium at 11.00 am on 4th January 2017


Freshwater systems represent only 0.01% of the total water available, but contain almost 10% of all the biodiversity described till date. Freshwater biodiversity and habitats also provide a range of ecosystem services and livelihood options to scores of people. These systems, being common property resources, have been overexploited, polluted, degraded and modified, leading to declining biodiversity. Management of freshwater systems, in India, depend on the legal status of the larger ecosystem in which they are located. Water being a state subject, each state has its own state water policies. There are other central and state government agencies that are stakeholders of freshwater systems and thus influence these systems. Therefore an attempt was made to understand the framing of freshwater biodiversity conservation within the legal frameworks on India. I find that lack of coordination between policies/ agencies, at both national and state level, makes it difficult to implement them on ground. Development of inter-sectoral water and land use planning might be useful in promoting balance between conservation and sustainable resource use. Scientific understanding of the roles played by freshwater biodiversity in maintaining the ecosystem services is required for more informed policy making and better conservation.

As an effort to conserve these systems and the biodiversity, several prioritization efforts have been made to identify key freshwater conservation sites, in recent years. These studies however consider only biological features while prioritizing conservation sites. Freshwater systems are complex ecosystems and are affected by several other factors. I have attempted to develop a comprehensive protocol for identifying high conservation value sites. The focus of the study is to shift from “reserve creation” approach. Rainfall, altitude, temperature seasonality and land use heterogeneity were found to be the most important factors in determining the freshwater biodiversity distribution. The physical factors along with resource use and threats to freshwater systems were combined with biological factors to develop a protocol for identifying high conservation value sites. I have compared the protocol developed with existing “biodiversity only” protocols and found that the method developed performed better. Hence, multiple criteria needs to be incorporated for identifying regions for conservation.