Professor C.R. Babu
Professor Emeritus, Centre for Environmental Management of Degraded Ecosystems (CEMDE), University of Delhi
The article explains how human-induced changes are impacting ecosystem function and services leading to ecological perturbations and how the Biodiversity Parks can mitigate them. It also provides an insight on Biodiversity Parks.
Human-induced changes in ecosystems and their adverse impacts
Humans have been changing the ecosystems since the time of origin of civilizations, and these changes have been impacting adversely on the ecosystem function and services. Human-induced changes in ecosystems during the last 50 years exceeded all those changes that took place during the entire civilization. These changes in ecosystems over a long period have manifested into 21st-century environmental challenges. Some of these challenges are (i) land degradation, (ii) climate change, (iii) loss of Biodiversity, (v) nutrient loading, (vi) biological invasions, (vii) degradation/depletion of water sources, (viii) extinction of wetlands and critical marine and terrestrial ecosystems and (ix) buildup of toxic chemicals/pollutants in soils, water and air to such an extent that these have become public health hazard.
The impacts of these anthropogenically mediated processes are exemplified by the following facts: About 25 percent of species in assessed plants and animal groups are threatened with 1 million species facing extinction; 1 species out of every 10 species will be lost by 2050; about 27% of plants and animals will become extinct by 2050; about 30 percent of terrestrial, inland, coastal and marine areas of particular importance to biodiversity, ecosystem; function and services should be brought under protected areas to prevent biodiversity loss. Land degradation alone make some 600-700 million people migrate by 2050; the well-being of 3.2 billion people (40% of the global population) is undermined due to land degradation. 87 percent world’s wetlands were extinct due to land degradation. Land degradation is threatening food security and access to clean air and clean water to most of the citizens.
Ecosystems and their services
In nature, the ecosystem is the level of ecological organization, and is a natural system, where the 4 components of the environment (soil, air, water, and living organism) interact within and among them resulting in ecological processes that generate a wide range of ecological/ecosystem services, is critical for sustainability of Biosphere at all spatial scales.
The ecological services rendered by ecosystems are grouped under three categories: The provisioning services such as the food we take, the water we drink, the shelter where we live, the clothes that we wear, the drugs that we take for the treatment of diseases, and the fuel that is used for cooking are all derived from ecosystems.
The life-supporting services include nutrient cycling, soil development, and primary productivity. The regulatory services include climate regulation, disease regulation, flood regulation, and water purification. The cultural services include aesthetic, spiritual, educational, cultural, and recreational values. All these ecosystem services contribute to human well-being.
Consequences of degradation/ extinction of ecosystems
The ecosystems are degraded and threatened with extinction leading to loss of ecosystem services which in turn results in the (i) loss of resilience to climate (ii) air pollution hazards (iii) heat island formation (iv) high frequency of extreme climate-related events (v) water scarcity (vi) depletion of groundwater (vii) species loss and (viii) epidemic of zoonotic diseases. These ecological perturbations are due to the loss of living component of the ecosystems.
The challenge is how to restore the degraded/dead ecosystems to their natural states or how to recreate the lost natural heritage. We evolved for the first time the concept of a Biodiversity Park to recreate the lost natural heritage in urban Centres and build climate resilience.
The concept of Biodiversity was evolved for the first time to recreate the lost natural heritage/ to restore the dead or degraded ecosystems to their natural states so that the recreated/ restored ecosystems have biodiversity and functions and services. The concept of a Biodiversity Park is based on the ecological restoration principle, i.e., an assemblage of species into ecological communities that promote biophysical processes (nutrient cycling, soil development, and moisture retention) leading to the redevelopment of the ecosystem.
Biodiversity Parks are unique landscapes of wilderness where ecological assemblies of native species in the form of biological communities are recreated on degraded landscapes. In other words, Biodiversity Parks are nature reserves and harbour vanishing flora and fauna and have educational, cultural, and conservation values, besides rendering a wide range of ecological services that contribute to environmental sustainability and build climate resilience.
The size of Biodiversity Park can vary from a few acres to several acres and include a wide range of landscape/ riverscape elements. A Biodiversity Park has usually two zones – the Nature Conservation Zone and the Visitor Zone. The Nature conservation zone will have terrestrial biological communities interspersed with a mosaic of wetlands and grassland communities of the area/ region. The visitor zone will have landscape elements like a Butterfly Park, Herbal Garden, Recreational Gardens, Nature Interpretation Centre, Threatened Plant Species Conservatory, and representative ecosystems of the area.
Biodiversity Parks has a wide range of functions and some them are as follows:
(i) serve as nature reserve for the conservation of vanishing local flora and fauna,
(ii) enhance environmental quality of the area/ region,
(iii) serve as hub for promoting environmental awareness among public and education among students,
(iv) store rainwater and recharge groundwater,
(v) serve as a conservatory for rare, endemic, and threatened plants,
(vi) sequester CO2 and other pollutants and build resilience to climate change,
(vii) promote ecotourism,
(viii) provide recreational service to the citizens, and
(ix) serve as a living Museum for understanding ecosystem processes and function that generate ecological services.
(x) Provide livelihoods to local communities
DDA Biodiversity Parks of Delhi
Delhi Development Authority (DDA) has so far notified 7 Biodiversity Parks spreading over 3000 acres across the city. These are being developed and managed by DDA in collaboration with CEMDE (University of Delhi). These Biodiversity Parks have become Nature Reserves and harbor 2500 species of plants and animals, and rendering ecological services such as purifying air, storage of rain water and recharging ground water, preventing heat island formation, buffering local weather, building climate resilience, preserving vanishing flora and fauna and promoting environmental education. Today Biodiversity Parks are global models for urban environmental sustainability. The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Government of India recommended to establish Biodiversity Parks at each state capital and district headquarters across the country. The Judiciary has also ordered the establishment of Biodiversity Parks along the floodplains of major rivers of India as a part of the rejuvenation of rivers.
Yamuna and Aravalli Biodiversity Parks
Of the 7 Biodiversity Parks of Delhi, Yamuna and Aravalli Biodiversity Parks are illustrated as examples
Yamuna Biodiversity Parks is located the upstream of Wazirabad reservoir of river Yamuna on its western bank and includes 157 inactive floodplains and 300 acres of active floodplains. It harbors about 1000 species of plants living in 20-25 communities. Figure 1 illustrate the overview of visitor area showing 10 representative ecosystems of the Yamuna river basin.
The Aravalli Biodiversity Park spreads over 692 acres at the Vasant Vihar – Vasant Kunj- Mahipalpur junction, and harbors 1200 species of plants living in 50-75 communities. The pic illustrates tropical broad-leaved deciduous forest ecosystem developed at Aravalli Biodiversity Park
To sum up, Biodiversity Parks not only contribute to urban environmental sustainability but also build climate resilience.