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Saturday, October 13

Dragonflies and Damselflies of Peninsular India - A Field Guide

short url for the story : http://goo.gl/cEVZh

Nature is around us, but we need a stepping stone to enter that world and understand its wonders. That way, dragon flies and damsel flies are the most suitable keys t explore the wonders of the world. However, they are numerous and are difficult to understand. This is the reason why Indian academy of Sciences has published ‘Dragonflies and Damselflies of Peninsular India - A Field Guide’, as a basic field guide for identifying most common dragon flies and damsel flies seen in different parts of India.

Dragonflies and Damselflies of Peninsular India - A Field GuideThe book prepared by famous scholar K A Subramanian, who has made extensive studies on odonates and fresh water biodiversity, was published under the Project Lifescape of IAS in 2005. Just to make it a perfect beginners field guide, it has pictures, and descriptions which help us identify species in a field trip. Moreover, to suit it to any beginner, the electronic version of the book is distributed free also.

The book in its electronic version is available in three parts with a detailed introduction which gives a clear idea about different body parts of a damsel fly and dragon fly and also about the terms used in the field guide to describe type specimens of each family. It also keeps detailed illustrations which help any inexperienced dragon fly watcher to get the basics right.

As Professor Madhav Gadgil points out in the forward to the book, “If we get to know them (odonates) better, we are apt to become more concerned with their welfare. That, in turn would mean broader support for our efforts to conserve, and prudently use, India’s rich heritage of biodiversity”.

We hope the field guide will thus unlock the wonder world of nature for more people through dragon flies and damsel flies, gradually leading them to a broader understanding about the need to conserve the rich biodiversity on mother earth.

Download Dragonflies and Damselflies of Peninsular India - A Field Guide free from IAS's Project Lifescape page here,
Or
Download PDF files of Dragonflies and Damselflies of Peninsular India - A Field Guide from the link below.

Introduction

Dragon Flies

Damsel Flies



Tuesday, October 9

Rajasthan had lagoons with evergreen vegetation, 55 million years ago, says paleontologists

Short URL for the story: http://goo.gl/QuxfM

Rajasthan is known for the dry geography including the great Thar Desert.  However, it had lush evergreen vegetation with lagoons about 55 million years ago, says a new study, as palentologists have found the fossil of a coconut like fruit from the Kapurdi village in Barmer district of Rajasthan.
early Eocene, Fossil, 55 million year old, fruit fossil, Cocos Sahnii
Fossil of a 55 million year old fruit Cocos Sahnii from
Kapurdi village in Barmer district of Rajasthan
(White arrows shows the eyes and black ones show ridges)
 Image courtesy: Anumeha Shukla, Rakesh C Mehrotra and Jaswant S Guleria




According to the study which is published in the latest issue of the Journal of Bioscience, the fruit has close relation with the present day coconut palms. It indicates that the environmental conditions in the area were supportive to the growth of coconut like palms which are usually found in the coastal ecosystems with relatively good rain fall, says the study.

“Its presence indicates warm, humid, possibly coastal conditions during the Early Eocene in Rajasthan, in contrast to the present-day dry and desertic climatic conditions occurring there. This finding, along with earlier described evergreen taxa at the site, indicates that the climate of Rajasthan was much better and luxuriant to support the growth of these evergreen taxa”, says the study.

Moreover, the new finding is also in line with earlier studies which have recovered fossils of evergreen vegetation, crabs, fishes, turtles and other aquatic organisms from here, indicating the existence of lagoon like ecosystems 55 million years ago.

According to the study, the uplift of the Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau could be the reasons which have contributed to a drastic change in the environmental conditions of the region, making it dry and arid.

A close relative of today’s coconut
The fruit fossil has two eyes and longitudinal ridges on the surface, making it similar to coconuts. The fibers of the husk are also longitudinally distributed as in a coconut fruit, says the study. Moreover, the 11.7 cm long and 5.8 cm wide fibrous fruit in ovoid shape resembles Cocos nucifera fruit than that of any other subspecies among the coconut palms.

The fruit was earlier identified as Cocos sahnii, when famous botanist Professor Kailas Nath Kaul found its fossil from the same area in 1951. But the study did not scientifically describe the species, as the fossil was an impression of the hard inner layer of the fruit on a stone. However, the new study has analyzed another fossil which has the mesocarp of the fruit (which is similar to the husk of the coconut fruit) intact, to establish its relation with coconut fruits.

Anumeha Shukla, Rakesh C Mehrotra and Jaswant S Guleria of Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeobotany, Lucknow has conducted the study.



Thursday, October 4

The story of finding the new stone Loach, Balitora laticauda: an interview


Western Ghats Rivers have a bounty of yet unknown aquatic fauna. Recently, a new member was added to the Indian aquatic fauna when a group of researchers found that a fish known to villagers living on the banks of Krishna River in Satara District of Maharashtra, is unknown to science. After conducting follow up studies and comparing it with already described similar species in India, they have established that it is indeed a new species. NeeleshDahanukar, IISER Fellow at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Pune who was part of the research team, talks about the finding of the new stone Loach from Krishna River with Indian Biodiversity Talks.

Balitora laticauda, teh new stone loach found from Krishna River in Northern Western Ghats
Image Courtesy: Sunil Bhoite
It is indeed interesting to know that the Western Ghats Rivers still keep organisms new to science. Will you please tell us how your team happened to find the fish?

Sunil Bhoite, who is a naturalist working in Satara District, Maharashtra, first caught this species in 2009 and sent it to Dr. Shrikant Jadhav, a scientist in Zoological Survey of India, Western Regional Center, Pune. 
habitat near Krishna River bridge
from where Balitora laticauda  was found.
Image Courtesy: Sunil Bhoite

During our collaborative work on the freshwater fish diversity of the northern Western Ghats, Dr. Jadhav showed me this species as an interesting specimen of genus Balitora. In 2011, Dr. Jadhav and I had an opportunity to visit the ZSI headquarters in Kolkata during which we studied the comparative material of related species. We realized that the species of Balitora from Satara is indeed a new species, still unknown to science.

In collaboration with Sunil Bhoite, who collected more specimens of the species early this year, Dr. Shrikant Jadhav and I worked on the species description and the findings are now published in Journal of Threatened Taxa. We also received some additional specimens of this fish from another locality in the same river from Madhavi Chavan and comparative material of Balitora mysorensis from Rahul Kumar, which were very important in the study.

Though the fish is new science, it had a local name. Were the locals using the fish for any cultural or other purpose?

This fish does not have any cultural value nor does it have any food value. However, sometimes tribal people (called Katkari) catch these and similar hill stream loaches and sell them in the local fish market. The species, however, is rare and is only seldom seen in the market.

With your finding, it is clear that the Western Ghats Rivers still have aquatic fauna which is yet to be described. Considering the rapid pace at which Western Ghats water bodies are polluted, do you think many of these unknown species will stop to exist even before we find them?

In the recent IUCN report on the threats to freshwater diversity of the Western Ghats (http://data.iucn.org/dbtw-wpd/edocs/RL-540-001.pdf) it was suggested that about 60% of the total endemic freshwater fish species of the Western Ghats are threatened because of several anthropogenic stressors including  organic and inorganic pollution of the water,  biological resource use (food fish and aquarium trade), invasive species, residential and commercial developments and natural system modification.
Typical habitat of Balitora laticauda
Image Courtesy: Sunil Bhoite

Especially in the northern Western Ghats such rapid developments are highly uncontrolled and they are modifying the natural ecosystems posing severe threats to the aquatic biota. On one hand, while the habits of the freshwater fishes, especially the specialists like hill stream loaches that require fast flowing clear water with a good substratum, are getting lost or severely affected; on the other hand we are still discovering species new to science. 

Unless we take efforts for conservation of the habitats and keep a check on the various anthropogenic stressors, it is quite likely that several freshwater fish species will go extinct even before we know them and describe them scientifically. 

Is there any specific threat to the newly described species?

There are no specific threats in the vicinity of type localities of the newly described species. However, potential threats to the habitat include severe sand mining upstream of type locality and agricultural run–off entering into the river. Some organic and inorganic pollution in the area is contributed by the washing of cloths and vehicles. Some river stretches in the vicinity of the habitat also have human settlements which contribute to household wastes directly being added to the river water.


Indian researchers find a new stone loach, Balitora laticauda from Krishna River in Northern Western Ghats

Short URL for the story: http://goo.gl/Z6Ffo

Confirming the rich biodiversity potential of the Western Ghats biodiversity hot spot,  researchers have identified and described a new Stone Loach from Krishna River in Northern Western Ghats. The new fish which is named as Balitora laticauda or Palmas Stone Loach, was spotted from three different parts of Krishna River in Satara district of the Indian state of Maharashtra.


Balitora laticauda, Palmas Stone Loach, Western Ghats fishes
Balitora laticauda, Palmas Stone Loach, Western Ghats fish
Balitora laticauda or Palmas Stone Loach
Image Courtesy: 
Neelesh Dahanukar
The finding which is published in the latest issue of the Journal of Threatened Taxa, claims that the new fish is different from all known species of stone loaches, in its appearance and characteristics.

It has at least 7 most distinct characteristics from its closest relative B. mysorensis described from the Cauvery River in neighboring state of Karnataka in 1941. It has 10 traverse bands on the dorsal side while the caudal peduncle is deeper than that of the known, closely related species, says the research paper.

The new finding adds a 19th member to the Balitora genus which includes stone loaches found in the hill streams of south and south East Asia. The researchers have spotted the fish from the stream of Krishna River drainage at Venegaon Village, Urmodi River near Nagthane Village and from Khodashi village.


"I got one specimen (of the fish) through my student. By perusal of literature, I was surprised that the present species is quite unlike to its allied species. Meanwhile I came in contact with Sunil Bhoite, a naturalist from Satara and told him about the collection of more specimen from his locality. After one year, he caught some specimen from Urmodi river. After detailed study, I was sure it is new to science.", said Dr. Shrikant Jadhav, Zoological Survey of India, Pune, who described the fish.

New to science, but known to locals
Though the species is new to science, it was not so for the local people in the villages on the banks of the river. Locals call the fish ‘Palmas’ in Marathi which interestingly points to the appearance as well as behavioral characteristics of the fish. In local Marathi, ‘Pal’ means Lizard and ‘mas’ means fish, probably pointing to its lizard like appearance and its habit of clinging to the rocks in the river.

Balitora laticauda habitat, Krishna River
Habitat of Balitora laticauda
Image Courtesy: 
Sunil Bhoite

According to Neelesh Dahanukar, IISER Fellow at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Pune, who was part of the research team, Katkari tribes used to catch this fish along with other stone loaches to sell in the local market. “The species, however, is rare and is only seldom seen in the market”, he said.

As per the research paper, the researchers have named the fish laticauda for its deeper caudal peduncle which makes it different from its close relatives found in India. Latus in Latin means ‘broad’ and cauda means tail.

Conservation significance
Despite getting attention from the scientific community, the life of Palmas stone loach may not be so easy in the face of rapid depletion of natural habitats in Western Ghats. Highly uncontrolled rapid developments are modifying the natural ecosystems, especially in the northern Western Ghats, posing severe threats to the aquatic biota, says Dahanukar. “Unless we take efforts for conservation of the habitats and keep a check on the various anthropogenic stressors, it is quite likely that several freshwater fish species will go extinct even before we know them and describe them scientifically. “, he says.

Pointing out that the fish lives in clear and swift waters of the streams with rocky bottom, the research paper also notes that the indiscriminate sand mining in the vicinity of the Krishna River can be a potential threat to the species.

Moreover, there is an urgent need to conserve the depleting habitat of the river since the research team hints that there could be more aquatic organisms here which are yet to be scientifically described. "There is also scope to discover some species from the region on which we are working.", said Dr. Shrikant Jadhav.

Read an exclusive interview here: The story of finding the new stone Laoch, Balitora laticauda


Wednesday, October 3

South Kerala Pelagic bird survey records Red Necked Phalarope for the first time from Kerala

Short URL for the story: http://goo.gl/50ohI

The first ever South Kerala Pelagic survey has added a new member to the pelagic birds of the state by spotting  Red Necked Phalarope, a tiny wader found in open sea,  near Neeenkdakara harbor on September 30th. According to a report circulated by Kerala Birder, an online birdwatchers’ group who was instrumental in organizing the pelagic survey, a juvenile Red Necked Phalarope was spotted very close to the boat used by the team on the first day of the survey. It is the first record of the species from Kerala.
Red Necked Phalarope, South Kerala Pelagic bird survey
        Red Necked Phalarope found off the coast Neendakara
Image Courtesy: E Kunhikrishnan

However, the team suspects that the actual sighting could be three, since two pale waders seen on the same day could also belong to the same species. “Two more pale waders seen earlier on the day could have been this species”, said Kerala Birder sources. Red Necked Phalarope usually found in North America and Eurasia but migrates to tropical oceans for wintering.

Apart from the rare bird record, the survey team has also spotted two Brown or South-Polar Skua. According to the team, there have been four instances of reporting large skua from Indian coast earlier. Moreover, the birders assume that the Skua spotted during the survey are not vagrants, but regular visitors, since the sea was very calm at that time. “The two birds were present during calm seas, indicating these are not probably vagrants but regular in Arabian sea.” says the report prepared by the team.

Other sightings

During the survey, the team has also spotted Flesh-footed Shearwater, Streaked Shearwater, Arctic Skua, Swinhoe’s Storm-petrel, Wilson’s Storm-petrel, Bridled Terns, Sooty Terns and Masked Booby birds.  Streaked Shearwater spotting is just the second time from Kerala, the first being two months before in July during the West Coast Pelgaic sea bird survey conducted off the coast of Kannur.

The South Kerala Pelagic survey was carried out on 30th September and 1st of October by surveying pelagic bird population off the coast of Neendakara and Vizhinjam. Birders from Malabar Natural History Society (MNHS), Travancore Natural History Society (TNHS) also attended the survey. 

Monday, October 1

Rare frog spotted from Western Ghats again

short URL for this story:- http://goo.gl/eUAG5

A rare frog believed to be found only in a specific part of the Anamudi summit in Eravikulam National Park in the Indian state of Kerala has been spotted from Poovar, a part of Western Ghats hill ranges some 20 kilometers away from the place of its earlier report.

Resplendent Bush Frog, Raorchestes resplendens
Resplendent Bush Frog, (Raorchestes resplendens)
According to a research correspondence published in the latest issue of the Journal of Threatened Taxa, the new record is approximately 20 kilometer away from the peak in the in north east direction, but within the boundary of the same national park. The researchers have made an unexpected confrontation with the frog during the survey of the endangered Nilgiri Tahr (Nilgiritragus hylocrius) present in Eravikulam National Park.

Known as Resplendent Bush Frog, (Raorchestes resplendens), the rare frog is categorized as critically endangered by IUCN Amphibian Specialist Group. It was first reported in 2010 by a team of researchers including the famous batrachologist Biju from Anamudi peak, which is the highest peak in the state of Kerala.
The elusive frog which has brightly colored reddish orange upper side was found in the grass land region in Poovar which is similar to the habitat from which it was first found. According to the correspondence, the frog was spotted inside a grass clump.

Conservation significance of the new findings

The new finding important as it gives valuable information about the range of distribution of the species, which is significant in the conservation of the species. When the frog was first found and described, it was believed that it had a very restricted presence and is found only within a 3 square kilometer area. However, the new finding reveals that the range of distribution of the frog is actually more than 3 square kilometers.

“It is likely that R. resplensens may be more widespread in the high altitude primary grasslands of Eravikulam National Park and surrounding areas of the Western Ghats, than it was earlier thought.”, says the correspondence.

 In 2010, when it was first spotted, researchers searched in nearby places, but failed to find the frog from different habitats in the vicinity. This has made them believe that the frog is present in only one type of locality in a small range.

In the present spotting, the most adjacent shola forest patch was one kilometer away, which means that the frogs may be living in the grass land itself. However, the first observations on Resplendent Bush Frog have revealed that the frogs use bamboo thickets in the vicinity to burrow their eggs. Thus the grassland sholas and related bamboo thickets at Eravikulam may be significant in a conservation perspective.

When it was first found in 2010, it was named Raorchestes to honour C. R. Narayan Rao, a pioneering batrachologist in India.  The resplendens name was given for the splendid colour of the frog. According to researchers, this rare frog is notable for its color as well as short limbs also.