95% off all tropical dry evergreen forests! A look into a rapidly shrinking ecosystem
The Coromandel Coast is the southeastern coastal region of India, which forms much of Tamil Nadu’s eastern coastline, and part of Andhra Pradesh’s. Human activity there has been reported as far back as the second century AD, and the population has been growing ever since. It is home to the growing metropolises of Chennai, Pondicherry, and Nellore. Determining the exact type of its forest has been difficult, as it was densely settled before any proper surveys could take place.
What are tropical dry evergreen forests (TDEF)?
The East Deccan Dry Evergreen Forest is one of the only three dry evergreen forests in the world, with the other two in Sri Lanka and SE Indochina. This forest happens to be one of the driest because it is in the rain shadow. This means that the clouds turn into precipitation long before they reach the eastern coast. Around 60% of the trees in TDEF are evergreen.
Despite having around 66 species of mammals and 230 species of birds, TDEF has very few endemic species.
Most trees in TDEF have waxy leaves, seeds encased in small fruits, dense wood, and generally lack thorns. They also help stabilize climate and store carbon.
How is the TDEF doing today?
Sadly, logging, grazing, and other human-caused events have reduced the TDEF to about 5% of what it used to be. TDEF is found only to occur within a 30km range on India’s eastern seaboard.
TDEF hasn’t been part of a dense forest ecosystem in living memory, or perhaps even recorded history. Much of what used to be TDEF along the Coromandel Coast is now reduced to scrubland. Only 1% of TDEF is in a protected area, usually as small fragments where there happens to be a sacred grove or temple.
Humans and TDEF
They looked at two forests with differing levels of human disturbance. The forest with greater disturbance had shorter trees (but was denser) and only 65% of trees found were evergreen, as opposed to 77% at the less disturbed site. Even within the scrublands, the local people have still found uses for them, mostly comprising of medicinal uses. People are now actively trying to protect the scrubland by transforming the 70 acres of eroded town into a complete ecosystem.
Saving the tropical dry evergreen forests is important not only because there are just a few left but also because they help us in so many ways.
Everard, M. (2018). The characteristics, representativeness, function and conservation importance of tropical dry evergreen forest on India’s Coromandel Coast. Journal of Threatened Taxa 10(6): 11760–11769; https://doi.org/10.11609/jott.2807.10.6.11760-11769