Kerala, a state in southwestern India, is known for its rich biodiversity and unique ecosystems. The region’s geographical features, including the Western Ghats mountain range, numerous rivers, and a long coastline, contribute to its exceptional natural diversity. Here are some key aspects of biodiversity in Kerala:
- Western Ghats Biodiversity: Kerala is home to a significant portion of the Western Ghats, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the world’s eight “hottest hotspots” of biological diversity. The Western Ghats harbor diverse flora and fauna, including numerous endemic and endangered species. It is known for its evergreen rainforests, grasslands, and shola forests.
- Forests: Kerala has a forest cover of around 29% of its total land area. The state’s forests comprise tropical evergreen, semi-evergreen, moist deciduous, and dry deciduous forest types. These forests support a wide array of plant species, including rare orchids, medicinal plants, and timber-yielding trees.
- Wildlife Sanctuaries and National Parks: Kerala boasts several wildlife sanctuaries and national parks that safeguard its diverse flora and fauna. Notable protected areas include Periyar Tiger Reserve, Silent Valley National Park, Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary, Eravikulam National Park, and Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary. These areas support a range of species, such as tigers, elephants, Nilgiri langurs, lion-tailed macaques, and endemic birds like the Malabar grey hornbill.
- Wetlands and Backwaters: Kerala’s coastal regions are dotted with mangrove forests, estuaries, lagoons, and backwaters. These ecosystems serve as breeding grounds for various marine and bird species, including fish, crabs, prawns, and migratory birds. The Vembanad-Kol wetland, the largest wetland system in Kerala, is recognized as a Ramsar site.
- Endemic Species: Kerala harbors numerous endemic species, which are found only in this region. The Malabar Giant Squirrel, Malabar Grey Hornbill, Nilgiri Tahr, Travancore Tortoise, and the recently discovered Malabar Tree Toad are some notable examples.
- Agro-biodiversity: Kerala’s traditional agricultural practices have preserved remarkable agro-biodiversity. The state is known for its vast variety of rice cultivars, including indigenous and heirloom varieties. Kerala’s spice gardens, tea and coffee plantations, and cashew farms contribute to the agricultural diversity of the region.
- Marine Biodiversity: Kerala’s long coastline is rich in marine biodiversity, including coral reefs, seagrass meadows, and various fish species. The marine ecosystem supports livelihoods through fishing and sustains a range of marine organisms, including dolphins, turtles, and seahorses.
Efforts are made to conserve and protect Kerala’s biodiversity through various initiatives, including the establishment of protected areas, community-based conservation programs, and awareness campaigns. However, like many other regions globally, Kerala faces challenges such as habitat loss, deforestation, invasive species, pollution, and climate change, which threaten its unique biodiversity.