Plenary Address to the Indian Science Congress in Mumbai, by Dr. Krishna Dronamraju

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Dr. Dronamraju honored at the Science Congress by Hem Pande, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests, and Chairman, National Biodiversity Authority, Government of India.

Biodiversity of our planet consists of the sum total of all life, including all species of plants, animals including humans, and various microorganisms, and microscopic life and all biota in their total genomic variants. Certain areas of planet earth are designated as Biodiversity “hot spots” – 35 areas qualify as hotspots. They represent just 2.3% of Earth’s land surface,but they support more than half of the world’s plant species as endemics — i.e., species found no place else — and nearly 43% of bird, mammal, reptile and amphibian species as endemics. A hot spot is irreplaceable. It must have 30% or less of its original natural vegetation. In other words, it must be threatened. Biodiversity hotspots are areas that support natural ecosystems that are largely intact and where native species and communities associated with these ecosystems are well represented.  They are also areas with a high diversity of locally endemic species, which are species that are not found or are rarely found outside the hotspot.The current, planned or potential management activities in hotspots place the natural values at risk, and it is likely this risk will increase in the future in the absence of active conservation management. Because the natural values of hotspots are largely intact, undertaking action now to maintain these values has the potential to provide value-for-money in contributing to our efforts in biodiversity conservation.

Megadiverse countries
Seventeen countries have been described as being ‘megadiverse’. This group of countries has less than 10% of the global surface, but support more than 70% of the biological diversity on earth. The concept was first developed by Russell Mittermeier in 1988, as a way to prioritise conservation action. Based on an analysis of primate conservation priorities, 17 countries being identified, representing more than two-thirds of all (known) life forms and the majority of tropical rainforests, coral reefs and other priority systems. The results of the assessment were published in the Megadiversity: Earth’s biologically wealthiest nations.

They are:
Australia, The Congo, Madagascar, South Africa, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philipplines, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, United States, Venezuela.
Biodiversity Research Programme

The Biodiversity Research Program uses remote sensing observations and models to improve our understanding of biodiversity within the Earth system and its effects on the Earth system, exploring patterns of biodiversity extant upon the land and within the water using observations from satellites, airborne and seaborne platforms, and in situ surveys. These are ideally suited for detecting many of biodiversity’s patterns, especially at the ecosystem level, but also at finer levels such as species and communities. It is important to understand the geophysical and ecological processes that result in the patterns of biodiversity our observations detect. Understanding these processes takes observations, although some of these observations may be at finer spatial scales than available from satellites. It also requires models; essentially simplified representations of our knowledge of how certain systems work that in turn allow us to test the validity of this knowledge. Process-oriented research offers the additional benefit of connecting the Biodiversity program to the activities of other Earth Science programs, such as efforts to track the biogeochemical cycling of important elements like carbon or studies of the water cycle.

The following questions are important:  What drives the diversity of life on Earth? How is this biodiversity changing and why?  What are the effects of biodiversity on other components of the Earth system?  Why do organisms and ecosystems exist where they do?  What are the consequences of land cover and land use change for human societies and the sustainability of ecosystems? What are the consequences of climate change and increased human activities for coastal regions? How will carbon cycle dynamics and terrestrial and marine ecosystems change in the future?

Dr. Dronamraju is President of the Foundation for Genetic Research, Houston, and Visiting Professor of the University of Paris. He is a former advisor to the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the Department of Agriculture, Washington,D.C.