A smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale perspicillata) pauses for a camera trap. These otters eat mostly fish but also birds, reptiles and rodents found near water. Photo courtesy of Wild Otters Research.
Conservation

How the elusive otter has made its home in Goa’s mangroves

Human-dominated mangroves are far from what is considered an ideal environment for otters. And yet this estuarine island on India’s western coast is home to a thriving population of the threatened smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale perspicillata). Recent studies of this elusive species living in the brackish waters of Chorao island—far from the freshwater sources that otters are typically believed to rely on—offer new insights into otter behaviour that could inform future conservation efforts.

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Reflection of birds flying in the sky in a mirror lying on the ground. Photo by Jovis Aloor on Unsplash
Unsustainable Cities

Bird immune systems reveal harshness of city life

They may peck greedily at feeding tables – and have it easier than country birds do in the warmer urban winters – but city birds, it turns out, are in turmoil on the inside. By Aisling Irwin Researchers have found that many internal defence mechanisms that are quiet in rural birds are much more active in those in cities. These biological pathways are pumping out extra antioxidants, immune system cells and detoxifiers – a sign that urban life is challenging their health. Globally, bird numbers are dropping. According to figures published by conservation organisation BirdLife International last year, 40% of bird species have

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A dew-splashed pear hangs from its branch. Photo by Christian Holzinger on Unsplash
Agriculture

Food forests offer better profits to farmers

Unprecedented climate change is causing a rethink on the way we grow our food. More and more farmers in India are looking at resilient food forests to sustain themselves, with reduced irrigation needs and improved productivity; and to help the country through the current agrarian crisis.

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Smoketacks poking the clouds somewhere over Kentucky.Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash
Climate Change

Storing CO2 underground can curb carbon emissions, but is it safe?

At first glance, it almost sounds crazy. Can we really take carbon dioxide emissions from an industrial plant and store them underground? To find out, research is currently taking place to test if such an idea is not only viable but safe, and prove that to the public. By Jonathan O’Callaghan This approach is known as carbon capture and storage (CCS) and it’s been around for decades but has never really taken off. In its recent reports, however, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said that CCS could have a key role to play if we’re going to meet our climate

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lelepa, Vanuatu, sinking, SIDS, climate change, sea level rise, excavate.in, Unsplash, climate passport
Climate Change

Climate passport, anyone?

As climate change leads to the flooding of whole countries, a climate passport may allow the most distressed to settle in countries that have been largely responsible for the impact.

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Sharks, Unsplash, excavate.in, India, endangered
Biodiversity

India’s sharks and rays: an ancient species on the brink of extinction

Across the planet, entire populations of sharks and rays are being overfished, in some cases leading them to the brink of extinction. The situation is particularly grim in the Arabian Sea where, according to a new study, over 50 percent of the shark species found in these waters are threatened. And as one of the top shark fishing nations in the world, India is leading the charge.

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A pod of narwhals (Monodon monoceros) in central Baffin Bay.
Biodiversity

As Arctic ship traffic increases, narwhals and other unique animals are at risk

A recent study assessed the vulnerability of 80 populations of Arctic marine mammals during the “open-water” period of September, when sea ice is at its minimum extent, to understand the relative risks of vessel traffic across Arctic marine mammal species, populations and regions. The study found that more than half (53 percent) of these populations – including walruses and several types of whales – would be exposed to vessels in Arctic sea routes. This could lead to collisions, noise disturbance or changes in the animals’ behaviour.

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Agriculture

Sinnar farmers breathe life back into irrigated farming

Falling agricultural income, accumulated power bills, spiraling farm loans, acute dependence on water tankers and the resultant migration to cities in search of livelihood are now referred to in the past tense in the 19 villages of Sinnar taluka in Maharashtra’s Nashik district, thanks to the unique participatory action of water management involving local farmers, an NGO, corporate donors and the state’s irrigation authorities.

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Biodiversity

‘Citizen science can help reduce wildlife mortality’

In an interview with Manu Moudgil, Dr. Andheria (President of the Wildlife Conservation Trust) talks about various aspects of wildlife conservation, including mitigation measures along linear infrastructure, fragmentation of forests and implementation of the Forest Rights Act.

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Forests

Soligas in tiger reserve win battle over forest rights

Soligas are an indigenous tribe of Karnataka, inhabiting the peripheral forest areas near Biligiri Rangana Hills (BR Hills) and Male Mahadeshwara (MM Hills) in Chamarajnagar district. Traditionally they have been dependent on the forests for their livelihood. The Soligas are also called the children of bamboo because the word is believed to mean that they originated from bamboo.

When the government declared the forests they live in a protected reserve, the Soligas created history by becoming the first tribal community living inside the core area of a tiger reserve in India to get their forest rights officially recognized by the court of law.

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Decoding Nature

Why does Nemo the clownfish have three white stripes? The riddle solved at last

Nemo, alias Amphiprion ocellaris, belongs to the clownfish group, which includes about 30 species. Their colour pattern is characterised by a yellow, orange, brown or black colour with vertical white stripes composed of light-reflecting cells called iridophores.

In addition to other physical characteristics, clownfish species are distinguished by their number of vertical white stripes. Thus, some species have no stripes (Amphiprion ephippium), only one (Amphiprion frenatus) or just two (Amphiprion sebae). Amphiprion ocellaris, the famous Nemo, has three stripes. What can explain the difference in the number of bands between these species?

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Agriculture

Why land degradation in India has increased and how to deal with it

Land degradation can exacerbate climate change and threaten agricultural productivity, water quality, biodiversity, sustainable development, and the living conditions of humans and wildlife, among other effects. Globally, a third of our land is degraded, affecting 3 billion people, and it is expected to worsen with rising demand for food.

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Collateral Damage?

Climate and conflict in South and Southeast Asia

A recently published paper by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has focussed on the under-researched topic of how climate change impacts may affect violence in South and Southeast Asia. Titled “Climate change and violent conflict: Sparse evidence from South Asia and South East Asia”, the report highlights how little work has been done in looking at climate change and its possible impact on security in the most densely populated regions on the planet.

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Biodiversity

China’s primates could disappear by end of this century, study warns

China has some 25 species of primates, of which 15 to 18 have fewer than 3,000 individuals surviving in the wild, according to a new study. Expanding suitable habitat for primates is critical, the researchers say, as is prioritising a network of protected corridors that can connect isolated primate subpopulations. By Shreya Dasgupta Most primates in China could be wiped out by the end of this century, a new study warns. China is the second-most primate-rich country in Asia, with 25 known species of non-human primates, including lorises, macaques, langurs, snub-nosed monkeys, and gibbons. Since the 1950s, though, primate populations have declined drastically,

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Agriculture

Rainforest coffee better for taste and biodiversity, but needs policy support for farmers’ income

Kodagu district in Karnataka, which was battered by the recent rains, is the starting point of Kaveri river and home to most of India’s coffee production. The native coffee-growing ecosystem has comparable tree diversity as the rainforest in which it is grown. It is also good for the climate, since it has similar carbon storage. But, there is a decline in both biodiversity and carbon storage as the coffee ecosystem moves from Coffea Arabica to C. Robusta, and as exotic silver oak trees replace the native shade trees. 

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Water Resources

In waterless Ladakh, women show the way

The Women’s Alliance of Ladakh (WAL), while making efforts to protect Ladakh’s environment and preserving its culture, is persuading farmers of the cold desert to practise organic farming and traditional water harvesting as farmers face water scarcity because of low snowfall in recent years. “It seems water is gradually vanishing from this place. We need to be prepared for water-related challenges ahead,” said 60-year-old Tsering Chondol, President of WAL, which counts some 4,000 women in 114 villages of Ladakh as members.

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Collateral Damage?

Is the upcoming Char Dham highway speeding towards environmental disaster?

The upcoming 900 kilometre-long Char Dham highway project, is being seen as a strategic attempt to bolster preparation of India’s security forces at the India-China border, apart from increasing tourist volume. But while it will facilitate the smooth movement of pilgrims and defence forces, it could be at the cost of the environment in the fragile hill state. According to experts, unchecked construction of the all-weather highway may end up triggering disasters in the ecologically sensitive Uttarakhand region.

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Agriculture

As India Struggles With Climate Change, Farming Couple Learns To Cope And Flourish

“Year by year, the quantity of rainfall is decreasing,” said Shyamrao Patil, 55, a lungi-clad, generously mustachioed wiry farmer who has learned to read the changing seasons and–most importantly–adapt to them in a country where climate change has started affecting the livelihoods of a fifth of the population, or 263 million people, that depends on farming.

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Collateral Damage?

In Malaysia, an island drowns in its own development

Malaysia’s Penang Island has undergone massive development since the 1960s, a process that continues today with plans for transit and land-reclamation megaprojects. The island is increasingly facing floods and landslides, problems environmentalists link to paving land and building on steep slopes.

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Biodiversity

Can a scientific name save one of Earth’s most iconic freshwater fish from extinction?

The mahseers are an iconic group of fish found throughout the fast-flowing rivers of South and South-East Asia. Characterised by their large scales, attractive appearance and potentially vast size, the mahseers have long been afforded saintly status as “God’s fishes”. They are also known to anglers as some of the world’s hardest fighting freshwater game fish, earning them the reputation of “tigers of the water”.

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Agriculture

Prehistoric people started to spread domesticated bananas across the world 6,000 years ago

In a globalised world, we routinely move enormous quantities of food around the planet in trade and for aid. Many countries, including India, would struggle to feed their populations without food imports. Most people are used to being able to buy a wide range of produce which domestic farmers would struggle – or find impossible – to grow. A typical example is the banana, once a prized exotic novelty, but now a staple in many country’s supermarkets.

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Climate Change

Tourist magnet Ladakh facing water scarcity

For 75-year-old Tsering Angdo, today’s Ladakh is entirely different from the world of his childhood in the cold Himalayan desert. Back then, he and everyone he knew would take water supply for granted. Ladakh was never short of water, considering the limited needs of a small population. That is now changing.

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Wildlife

Elephants can adapt to human habitation but sirens stress them out

As more and more elephant habitats are falling under the ever-growing influence of humans, elephants are often coming into contact with people, whether they are passing through human-inhabited landscapes, or directly interacting with them, the latter of which sometimes culminate in intense conflicts.

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Water Resources

Indian villages look to Bhutan for water

A lot has been discussed about the acute water crisis in many parts of India. But who would have thought some villages in rural West Bengal have to depend on a neighbouring nation for water? Thanks to administrative failure, four villages surrounding the Bundapani tea estate in Alipurduar district of West Bengal, around 600 kilometres from Kolkata, get water from Bhutan for their daily needs.

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Collateral Damage?

Air pollution increases crime in cities – here’s how

The impact of air pollution on human health is well-documented. We know that exposure to high levels of air pollutants raises the risk of respiratory infections, heart disease, stroke, lung cancer as well as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. But there is growing evidence to suggest that air pollution does not just affect our health – it affects our behaviour too.

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Biodiversity

India soon to have guidelines to save birds from wind energy farms

Alarmed by the threats from wind energy farms to birds, including migratory birds and raptors, a panel of forest experts of India’s environment ministry has now suggested a series of measures to be adopted by all the wind power companies in India for ensuring the protection of birds. For instance, it has suggested painting the vane tips of wind turbines orange, to prevent birds from flying into the turbines. The requirement for such measures has increased as the world is moving away from fossil fuel and towards renewable energy, mainly wind and solar power, to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

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Climate Change

Half of Earth’s satellites restrict use of climate data

When governments restrict who can access data, or limit how people can use or redistribute it, that slows the progress of science. Now, as U.S. climate funding is under threat, it’s more important than ever to ensure that researchers and others make the most of the collected data.

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