India is one of the 12 mega biodiversity countries in the world. The country is divided into 10 biogeographic regions. The diverse physical features and climatic situations have formed ecological habitats like forests, grasslands, wetlands, coastal and marine ecosystems and desert ecosystems, which harbour and sustain immense biodiversity. 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 country is also one of the 12 primary centres 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, fibre crops and oilseeds, and 114 breeds of domesticated animals.
About 4,900 species of flowering plants are endemic to the country. These are distributed among 141 genera belonging to 47 families. These are concentrated in the floristically rich areas of North-East India, the Western Ghats, North-West Himalayas and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. These areas constitute two of the 18 hot spots identified in the world. It is estimated that 62 per cent of the known amphibian species are endemic to India of which a majority is found in Western Ghats.
Approximately 65 per cent of the total geographical area has been surveyed so far. Based on this, over 46,000 species of plants 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, specially in lower plants and invertebrate animals. The Forest Survey of India established in 1981 assess the forest cover with a view to develop an accurate database for planning and monitoring purposes.
- Conservation and sustainable use of biological resources based on local knowledge systems and practices is ingrained in Indian ethos. The country has a number of alternative medicines, like Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathic systems which are predominantly based on plant based raw materials in most of their preparations and formulations. Herbal preparations for various purposes including pharmaceutical and cosmetic purposes form part of the traditional biodiversity uses in India.
- 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. A protected area network of 85 national parks and 448 wildlife sanctuaries has been created. The results of this network have been significant in restoring viable population of large mammals such as tiger, lion, rhinoceros, crocodiles and elephants.
- 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, covering a total area of 8,500 hectares.
- Six significant wetlands of India have been declared as “Ramsar Sites” under the Ramsar Convention. Under the World Heritage Convention, five natural sites have been declared as “World Heritage Sites”.
- To conserve the representative ecosystems, a Biosphere Reserve Programme is being implemented. Twelve biodiversity rich areas of the country have been designated as Biosphere Reserves applying the UNESCO/MAB criteria. These reserves aim at conserving the biological diversity and genetic integrity of plants, animals and microorganisms in their totality as part of the natural ecosystems, so as to ensure that self-perpetuation and unhindered evolution of the living resources.
Conserving Biodiversity of the Country