Sunday, November 11, 2007

The grass is greener

Gray nightjar (possibly the first record from IISc)
Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchSome time ago we had a talk in out department by Prof. Madhusudan Katti from California. He started his career as a birder like me from my hometown of Bombay. If you know Bombay superficially, you'd be amazed that there is any opportunity to bird there at all. But both the sprawling city and it's suburbs actually do have a great deal to offer, from marshlands, to the seaside to the birds in the Borivali national park which sits paradoxically within a city!

Brown Shrike: a winter migrant
His academic interest continues to be urban wildlife and ecology, particularly in the area of reconciliation ecology. His talk was on some quite interesting work which he did recently in Phoenix, Arizona. He and his group were trying to look at the effect that the socio-economics of a neighbourhood have on the biodiversity in a particular area. They were specifically looking at the bird and plant diversity in 49 parks and their neighbourhoods in Phoenix which they then classified into different socioeconomic areas.

Bluethroated flycatcher: another winter migrant
They acknowledge that there are several processes in action which regulate biodiversity in an urban situation, they identify both top-down effects, (effects that flow from the decisions of policy makers to citizens: what trees to plant, how to landscape in public parks, etc ) and bottom-up effects (which flow in the opposite direction usually in personal land-holding). They also acknowledge that these effects might leak across, so given that birds are quite mobile what you see in the parks might have much to do with whats going on in backyards. What they expect is that higher socio-economic groups are making their neighbourhoods more diverse, by planting more diverse plants, possibly having more area to work with. The parks however which are top-down managed shouldn't show such patterns.

Verditer flycatcher: yet another migrant
After having controlled for a host of other possible effects, what they found was just that, socio-economics was good at telling you about plant diversity in neighbourhoods not in parks. But that it was good at telling you about bird diversity in neighbourhoods, but also partly in the parks! This I guess is the leakage effects across the two because of bird mobility. With due caveats about the applicability of a study like this particularly to a country like India, where so little is managed at all, I find this result quite interesting. Being rich means a lot of things, not only does it mean that you have the possibility of a more varied life, but it also means you have a better environment in several ways unthought of before!

For those of my readers who are wildlife shooters and want to shoot in urban environments, make the hike to the parks in the richer areas! There's better pickings there!

Spotted munias: residents
What it also leads me to, is this... In India, at least in the two cities I've lived in, Bombay and Bangalore, the campuses of educational institutes happen to be some of the most biodiverse areas. (Especially when I compare it to the only campus I've been on in the US, the Univ. of Maryland, Baltimore campus, which was nothing to write home about.) In Bombay, the IIT has leopards and jackals on it's campus. I've documented quite a bit of what is here in IISc, Bangalore. I've heard great things about the IIT, Chennai campus as well (Rahul?). So I guess, we live the lifestyles of the rich in our protected little enclaves? Without actually having their incomes, we at least experience some of the benefits of it.

Red avadavat: unknown status
Off course, a little thought tells us we owe it to having top-down management delinked from governmental management. Essentially, someone, somewhere in the history of our institutions had the good sense to think that if we can't offer the money, we might do well to offer the trappings. Think about it, in how many places in Bangalore would kids grow up with trees to climb? With a pool thats 50m long and amidst such beautiful greenery? (How I will miss my swims when I leave!) With a backyard thats essentially 500 acres big. What this also means is that we remain dependent on this wisdom continuing and not being eroded by enticements of 'development' and 'modernization'. Fortunately, since the communities are smaller we are more likely to be able to influence what policies are made as long as we ourselves remain interested and engaged.

PS. Has Blogger been driving everyone nuts with image uploading issues? Or is it just me? It's been a hellish month or so. Images take forever to upload with just too many errors and crashes.

1 comment:

Rahul said...

I've heard great things about the IIT, Chennai campus as well (Rahul?).

I'm not intimately familiar with the IITM campus (I've only been on the main roads and in buildings located on those roads), but it is located on a part of the Guindy national park, and is heavily wooded and has much fauna (deer are particularly visible on the campus). I'm not sure about the bird population on the IIT campus itself, but the Guindy park, as well as marshlands further south, are good places for birds. Like Borivali, the park is inside the city (much smaller, but a lot closer to the "city centre" than Borivali).