DR. KM BHAT ENDOWMENT AWARD 2011
The Dr. K. M. Bhat Endowment award carrying a Gold Medal, Certificate of Merit and a cash prize of Rs. 5,000/- was awarded to Dr. K. M. Jayahari of Winrock International, New Delhi. Dr. Jayahari was selected from among 8 applications received and his doctoral work on Spiny Tree Mouse was adjudged the best and considered worthy of the award. The award was presented to him on 3rd January 2011 in a function organised at KFRI in connection with 2nd death anniversary of Dr. KM Bhat. Dr. H. Nagesh Prabhu IFS, Managing Director of ‘OUSHADHI’ presented the award and delivered the Memorial lecture. Salient features of the work follow.
The outcome of the present study can be summarised into the following conclusions.
Malabar Spiny Dormouse, endemic to the Western Ghats is distributed throughout the forest areas of the State, except at some localities. Malabar Spiny Dormouse is newly reported from ten protected areas of Kerala. Seven species of Murid rodents and one genus of Suncus were recorded from the fourteen protected areas of Kerala. Overall capture success was 36.2 per cent and the highest species richness was recorded from the Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary. Male to female ratio, morphology, age class and abundance of Ratties rattusin the protected areas of Kerala is described. The study revealed that the diversity of vegetation nurtures high rodent diversity in forest habitat. The pattern of the rodent species assemblage can be directly attributed to the environmental characteristics of the habitat. Even though the study could identify low competition between the rodent species in forest habitats, there was no evidence to prove its influence in the composition of species. Limitations of the Capture Mark Recapture technique, which is widely used in the small mammal population studies in the temperate forests, when employed jn the troickal habitats is reveled from the study. Rodent species richness is positively correlated to the tree species richness. Mus platythrix is newly reported from the Kerala part of the Western Ghats. Rattus mttlls is the most abundant rodent species in the forests of Kerala. The forest areas of the Kerala part of Western Ghats were found to be low in the density of rodents. Malabar Spiny Dormouse is living in colonies in nests made in the tree hollows. Malabar Spiny Dormouse is a selective feederand is adept in seed predation. It feeds on twenty five food species and its preferred food species include exotic cash crops introduced only during the last three centuries. The study brought out evidences to suspect folivory in Malabar Spiny Dormouse and the species is considered as a minor pest on pepper and cocoa plantations adjoining with the forests. Malabar Spiny Dormouse is an important seed predator in the western Ghats tropical fotest and its most preferred food is Tem!iIlalia bellerica seeds. The position of the Malabar Spiny Dormollse in the food web of the tropical forest is crucial because of the seed predating behaviour of the species and its role as the prey base in the canopy. The species did not show any consistency in the time of emergence from the nest and the animal came out of the nest between 18.50 to 19.30 h. The foraging decisions of ' malabar Spiny Dormouse depended on the predator pressure and food availability. Malabar Spiny Dormouse is capable of carrying out foraging trips up to 1.25 km. Sexual dimorphism exists in the case of exploratory behaviour and females are more exploratory than the males. The home range of the Malabar Spiny Dormouse is estimated as 4.85 ± 0.05 ha. The nests are vertical hollows with a circular opening diameter of 4.8 mm at the base. The nest maintenance activity was carried out by the males. The maintenance of the specific diameter of the nest can be an antipredator strategy and the species preferLagerstrenia microcarpa trees for nesting and there was no trend for a specific nest height. Malabar Spiny Dormouse was earlier reported as an evergreen species, but the present study revealed that the species is distributed in the riparian patches of the Moist Deciduous Forest also with high crown density. The species gives priority to the antipredator strategy in the habitat selection, than the availability of food species. The circumference of nest hole was highly specific and a trend was found in opening of the nests towards west. The GIS assisted prediction, identified the riparian forests of the Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary and the nearby areas as the probable habitat of the Malabar Spiny Dormouse. , The present status of the species is in low risk least concern according to IUCN categorisation, It is recommended to elevate the status of the species into next category Lower Risk near threatened based on the present study.
YOUNG SCIENTIST AWARD, SCIENCE CONGRESS
Assessing the population status and distribution of owls in the southern Western Ghats
Except few hazy statements that owls are widely distributed throughout the India, there was no scientific-based survey or assessment on the population status of owls in the Indian subcontinent. With this background, the study was initiated with two research questions: 1) what is current population status of owls in the southern Western Ghats (a biodiversity hotspot)? and 2) how much area of fundamental niche is available in the southern Western Ghats for the long run conservation of owls?.
To answer these two questions, a systematic survey on owls was carried out by adopting four survey protocols namely dusk watch, initial quiet listening, call playback and spotlight. Altogether, 276 census points covering 24 forest areas were surveyed. The population status of owls was assessed based on the relative abundance of each owl species by pooling all the census points. The geographic distribution of owls were predicted through ecological niche modelling approach called Maximum Entropy paradigms, using a set of presence records of owls and certain uncorrelated bio-climatic, topographic and land-use variables.
A rare wintering migrant Short-eared owl was recorded for the first time in Peechi-Vazhani Wildlife Sanctuary. Ceylon bay owl was recorded newly from two protected areas namely Idukki and Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuaries. Dry deciduous and scrub forests, low altitude, mid sloppy and highly disturbed sites were species rich zones for the owls. Moist deciduous and wet evergreen forests, mid altitude, low sloppy and highly disturbed sites were abundant zones for the owls in the southern Western Ghats. Status of lesser owls was observed to be common to uncommon and it was uncommon to rare for large and moderate owls.
Large tracts of Deciduous forests (both dry and moist), Wet evergreen forests with low extent of dry forests are required at landscape level for the lesser owls. Riparian forests adjacent to the Moist deciduous forest, Wet evergreen, Dry deciduous forest and scrub forests are the important habitats for the conservation of large owls (Brown fish owl, Indian eagle owl, Forest eagle owl, Brown wood owl). The riparian forests are acting as a conservation zone for the large owls.
As far as the Indian subcontinent is concerned, it is a first study to assess the population status of owls in the Western Ghats and further, this is the first attempt to predict the geographic distribution of birds especially owls using ecological niche modelling approaches. Moreover, the study has created baseline information on distribution and population status of owls in the southern Western Ghats.
DR. C. CHANDRASEKHARAN MEMORIAL AWARD
Animal diversity of Myristica swamps in southern kerala with emphasis on herpetofauna
Ms. Joyce Jose
The Myristica swamp is a unique, naturally fragmented ecosystem needing special abiotic conditions for development. This ecosystem has been restricted into small patches along selected waterways of the Western Ghats. Anthropogenic causes have further fragmented this ecosystem. The total area of Myristica swamps in India is less than 200 hectares. Studies on the faunal diversity or on threats to this ecosystem were almost non-existent. In this context, a study on the general animal diversity, herpetofaunal assemblages and anthropogenic perturbations in the Myristica swamp patches of Kulathupuzha Forest Range, Anchal Forest Range and Shendurney Wildlife Sanctuary is relevant.
Objectives: 1) To prepare an inventory of the fauna of Myristica swamps in southern Kerala with emphasis on herpetofauna. 2) To identify the composition and assemblage structure of selected herpetofauna of Myristica swamps from an ecological perspective.3. To identify the anthropogenic disturbances to the Myristica swamps and to formulate strategies for the conservation of Myristica swamps.
Results in a nutshell:
Fragmented swamp patches adding to a total area of only 149.75 ha provide habitat for 362 invertebrate species (Platyhelminthes-3 sp., Nemathelminthes-1, Annelida-4, Mollusca-10, Insecta-281, Myriapoda-6 and Arachnida-54) and 281 vertebrate species (Picses-14, Amphibia-56 species, Reptilia-55, Aves-129, Mammalia-27(inventory)). Myristica swamps contain 23% butterflies, 11% spiders, 8.4% fishes, more than 50% amphibians, more than 20% reptiles, 26.6% birds and 6.6% mammals of Kerala State. Of the animals recorded from the Myristica swamp 16.3% are endemic to Western Ghats and 24.2% of the vertebrates recorded from the swamps are red listed.
The study may be used as a point of reference for further research and for formulating management and conservation strategies for the Myristica swamps of Southern Kerala.