India As A Megadiversity Nation

Rakesh Kr Sinha*, Meera Dubey*, R.D. Tripathi**, Amit Kumar**, Preeti Tripathi**, Sanjay Dwivedi.**

The United Nations has declared the year 2010 as the ‘International Year of Biodiversity’ and the theme for this year’s environment day is “Biodiversity: Connecting with Nature” and India is one of the 12 mega diversity nation in the world. Megadiversity, a term used by international organizations (refers to World Bank Technical Paper no. 343). India is located in South Asia, between latitude 6.00 and 38.00 N and longitudes 69.00 and 97.00 E. Biogeographically, India is situated at the tri-junction of three realms Afro-tropical, Indo-Malayan, and Paleo-Arctic realms, and therefore, has characteristic elements from each of them. This assemblage of three distinct realms makes the country rich and unique in biological diversity. The Indian landmass extending over a total geographical area of about 3029 million hectares is bounded by the Himalayas in the north, the Bay of Bengal in the east, the Arabian Sea in the west, and the Indian Ocean in the south. Two areas in India have been identified as megadiversity hot spot areas, which are western ghat forests and eastern Himalayan forests, but India as a whole country as megadiversity nation. Miller Meier says, ‘India is remarkable in both species richness and endemism although it ranks 10th position.

Why India said to be megadiversity nation.

The large species richness and abundance are due to an immense variety of climatic and altitudinal conditions in the country. These vary from the humid tropical Western Ghats to the hot desert of Rajasthan, from the cold desert of Ladakh and the icy mountain of Himalayas to the warm coast of peninsular India and these include ecosystem diversity is highest in the world, which represents forest ecosystems, grassland ecosystems, wetland ecosystems, coastal and marine ecosystems, and the desert ecosystems. There are 10 Biogeography zones and 26 Biogeography provinces, which are representatives of all the major ecosystems of the world. The country constitutes only 2.4% of the world’s land area but having 11% of the flora and 6.5% of the fauna of the world. Approximately 65 percent of the total geographical area has been surveyed so far. Based on this, over 46,000 species of plants which accounts for 15% of the known world plants in this 15000 species of the flowering plants, out of these 35% are endemic and located in 25 endemic centers and 588 genera of monocotyledons 22 are strictly endemic and 81,000 species of animals have been described by the Botanical Survey of India (BSI) established in 1890 and Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) established in 1916, respectively. This list is being constantly upgraded, especially in lower plants and invertebrate animals. The families with high percentage of endemic species include Berberidaceae(98%), Saxifragaceae(92%), Ranunculaceae(72%), Rosaceae(70%), Melastomaceae(56%), Balsaminaceae(44%), Acanthaceae(38%) and Asclepiadaceae(32%). In addition to the above India also possess 40 species of insectivorous plants, 130 species of primitive plants, 130 species of parasites, and 70 species of saprophytes There are about 15000 species of angiosperm, 65 species of gymnosperms, 1232 species of pteridophytes, 2850 species of bryophytes, 6990 species of algae, 2075 species of lichens, 14500 species of fungi and more than 850 species of virus and bacteria are found in India. It contains 1, 27,000 species of the world of which more than 45,000 species are plants and more than 80,000 species are animals. India contains about 75000 animal species out of which 80% are insects. In animals 62% of amphibians which majority is found in the Western Ghats and 32% of reptiles are endemic. There are no clear estimations of marine biota in the Indian continent. the long coastline with 4, 52,468 sq. and extended economic zone of 20,13,510 sq. which are an abundance of fish, crustaceans, corals, reptiles, seaweeds, mollusks, and mammals. In India, mangroves occur along the coast-line comprising a total area of 6740 sq. km; which is nearly 12% of the world’s mangrove areas. The country also has four Coral Reef Areas located in the Gulf of Mannar, Gulf of Kutch. Lakshadweep and Andaman and the Nicobar Islands. The Western Ghats in peninsular India, which extends in the southern states are treasures house of species diversity and have about 5000 species. It is estimated that almost one-third of animal varieties found in India have taken in the Western Ghat of Kerala alone. The country is also one of the 12 primary centers of origin of cultivated plants and domesticated animals. It is considered to be the homeland of 167 important plant species of cereals, millets, fruits, condiments, vegetables, pulses, fiber crops and oilseeds, and 114 breeds of domesticated animals.

Endemic Species in India.

India has many endemic plant and animal species. Among plants, species endemism is estimated at 33%. More than 140 endemic genera but no endemic families (Botanical Survey of India, 1983). Areas rich in endemism are north-east India, the Western Ghats and the north-western and eastern Himalayas are hot spot. A small pocket of local endemism also occurs in the Eastern Ghats. The Gangetic plains are generally poor in endemics, while the Andaman and Nicobar Islands contribute at least 220 species to the endemic flora of India (Botanical Survey of India, 1983). WCMC’s Threatened Plants Unit (TPU) is in the preliminary stages of cataloguing the world’s centres of plant diversity; approximately 150 botanical sites worldwide are so far recognised as important for conservation action, but others are constantly being identified (IUCN, 1987). Five locations have so far been issued for India: the Agastyamalai Hills, Silent Valley and New Amarambalam Reserve and Periyar National Park (all in the Western Ghats), and the Eastern and Western Himalaya. Endemism among mammals and birds is relatively low. Only 44 species of Indian mammal have a range that is confined entirely to within Indian territorial limits. Four endemic species of conservation significance occur in the Western Ghats. They are the Lion-tailed macaque Macaca silenus, Nilgiri leaf monkey Trachypithecus johni, Brown palm civet Paradoxurus jerdoni and Nilgiri tahr Hemitragus hylocrius. Only 55 bird species are endemic to India, with distributions concentrated in areas of high rainfall. They are located mainly in eastern India along the mountain chains where the monsoon shadow occurs, south-west India and the Nicobar and Andaman Islands. In contrast, endemism in the Indian reptilian and amphibian fauna is high. There are around 187 endemic reptiles, and 110 endemic amphibian species. Eight amphibian genera are not found outside India.

Species Diversity

India contains a great wealth of biological diversity in its terrestrial and aquatic areas. This richness is shown in absolute numbers of species and the proportion they represent of the world total.

 Table 1Comparison between the Number of Species in India and the World 

GroupNumber of species
in India (SI)
Number of species
in the world (SW)
SI/SW (%)
Flowering Plants150002500006.0

 India has many scientific institutes and botanical garden (like NBRI), university departments interested in various aspects of biodiversity. A large number of scientists and environmentalist have been engaged in inventory, research, and monitoring. The general state of knowledge about the abundance and richness of the species is therefore fairly good.

Conservation Strategies

The strategies for conservation and sustainable utilization of biodiversity for development of nation have comprised providing special protection to biodiversity rich areas by declaring them as national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, biosphere reserves, ecologically fragile and sensitive areas. Other strategies include offloading pressure from reserve forests by alternative measures of fuel wood and fodder need satisfaction by afforestation of degraded areas and wastelands and creation of ex-situ conservations facilities such as gene banks. For example, the Tura Range in Garo Hills of Meghalaya is a gene sanctuary for preserving the rich native diversity of wild citrus and musa species. Approximately, 4.2 per cent of the total geographical area of the country has been earmarked for extensive in-situ conservation of habitats and ecosystems. The forest types according to Champion and Seth (1968) include tropical, subtropical, temperate and alpine. These are further divided into sixteen major types and 232 subtypes for conservation purposes. On the basis of these, the country has 13 Biosphere reserves, 604 protected areas (97 National parks and 507 Wildlife Sanctuaries), covering more than 5% of the land surface. The Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE) has identified 309 forest preservation plots of representative forest types for conservation of viable and representative areas of biodiversity. Out of these plots, 187 area in natural forests and 112 are in plantations. The results of this network have been significant in restoring viable population of large mammals such as tiger, lion, rhinoceros, crocodiles and elephants. Six Indian Wetlands have been designated as wetlands of International importance under the “Ramsar Conventions” and India has more than 2500 wetlands spread over an area of 4.1 Million hectare.  India is also embodied with 64,122 Km. of rivers networking contrasting land forms like mountain ranges, plateaus and valleys, 1.94 Million hectare of reservoirs, 2.26 Million hectare of ponds and lakes, 1.47 Million hectare of brackish water and about 8060 Km. extensive coastline and 1.56 Million hectare of water logged lands in command area. These all water body conserves different type of flora and fauna. To complement in-situ conservation, attention has been paid to ex-situ conservation measures. According to currently available survey, central government and state governments together run and manage 33 botanical gardens. Universities have their own botanical gardens. There are 275 zoos, deer parks, safari parks and aquaria. A Central Zoo Authority was set up to secure better management of zoos. A scheme ‘Assistance to Botanical Gardens’ provides one-time assistance to botanical gardens to strengthen and institute measures for ex-situ conservation of threatened and endangered species in their respective regions. Programmes have been launched for scientific management and sensible use of wetlands, mangroves and coral reef ecosystems. Twenty one wetlands, and mangrove areas and 4 coral reef areas have been identified for intensive conservation and management purposes. Mangroves conservation is one of the thrust areas of the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

The Ministry of Environment and Forests constituted the National Afforestation and Eco-development Board (NAEB) in August 1992. NAEB has evolved specific schemes for promoting afforestation and management strategies which help the states in developing specific afforestation and management strategies and eco-development packages for augmenting biomass production through a participatory planning process of joint forest management and microplanning.

Major central acts relevant to biodiversity include Forest Act, 1927, Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, and Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. The various central Acts are supported by a number of state laws and statutes concerning forests and other natural resources. The policies and strategies directly relevant to biodiversity include National Forest Policy amended in 1988, National Conservation Strategy and Policy Statement for Environment and Sustainable Development, National Agricultural Policy, National Land Use Policy, National Fisheries Policy, National Policy and Action Strategy on Biodiversity, National Wildlife Action Plan and Environmental Action Plan.

India’s Biodiversity as a Beauty

The eastern Himalayas from a humid region having high monsoon rainfall, milder temperature, and less snowfall. The mighty mountains with their snow-pick and extremely rich forest exert a tremendous influence on the flora and fauna of the region. Arunachal Pradesh is a land of mighty rocks and luxuriant forests, gentle streams, and raging torrents. It presents a breathtaking spectacle of nature in her glory, beauty of gorges, and galaxy of ethnics people make the area as one of the best in the world. The mountain range in Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Tripura, Mizoram and the Dargling hills are a symbol of celestial splendor where a good number of peaks rise well over 7000m., the highest being the Kanchinjongha 8335m which is very close to Mt. Everest, the world highest peak.


With bird eye view of this paper, in my opinion, biodiversity is not only genes, species, population, community, and ecosystem only but also it refers to productivity, nutritional status, biocontrol, biofertilizers, bioenergy, breeding strategies, livelihood, lifestyle, endogenous knowledge with ex-situ and in-situ conservation. We have a lot of endogenous species of flora and fauna in all ecosystems which are important for developing countries particularly India where the economy depends heavily on these resources. India’s megadiversity is well placed, cultural diversity, different religions, languages, traditions and festivals, Ayurveda, Unani, Homeopaths, and Herbal preparations (cosmetics and Pharmaceuticals purposes). They are part of traditional biodiversity. Many crops like rice sugarcane, mango, jute, citrus, banana, bazra, jwar etc, arose in India and spread throughout the world and a large proportion of the Indian biodiversity is still unexplored.

*Centre for Environmental Science and Technology, BHU (Varanasi) ; **National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow.

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