Tracking the ecological and cultural impacts of biological invasions in a biodiversity hotspot.
Invasive species have been recognised as a primary agent of biodiversity loss worldwide. Invasive
species also have unforeseen consequences in peopled systems. These include losses to
livelihoods because of reduced yield of forest products, and cultural impacts, for example, due to invasive species preventing people’s access to sacred sites, potentially leading to an overall erosion in local knowledge systems. Under this National Geographic Society funded project, we are monitoring the long-term change in the density and distribution of the invasive species, Lantana camara (hereinafter, lantana), and its ecological and cultural effects in a protected area in the Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple Tiger Reserve, in the Western Ghats. Our past work on Soliga knowledge of lantana indicated its significant threat to Soliga culture, livelihoods, and wellbeing. We propose to extend our earlier survey of lantana (conducted in 2007-08) and trace its invasion trajectory from 1997-2018. These data will indicate how native biodiversity responds to lantana invasion, and would also help prioritise areas for future conservation and management. Lastly, we are visually documenting lantana’s effects on Soliga lives, to bring into focus the loss of local ecological knowledge and highlight the importance of cultural conservation in the face of biological invasions.