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HindustanTimes Tue,23 Sep 2014

Scientists set to go on insect hunt to save the Sunderbans

Joydeep Thakur, Hindustan Times  Kolkata, June 26, 2013
First Published: 12:00 IST(26/6/2013) | Last Updated: 12:03 IST(26/6/2013)

In a first-of-its-kind exercise, scientists would soon go scouting the tiger-infested Sunderbans forest for insects that help the mangrove plants produce seeds and help sustain the world’s largest delta.

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The project, to be funded by the Union ministry of environment and forests, would principally aim at conserving the lesser-known creatures of the forests that are key to sustenance of the lush mangroves. The ministry has already sanctioned Rs. 80 lakh for the project and the scientists are to embark on the venture this July.

“A team of about eight scientists from the Zoological Survey of India would scour numerous pockets of the 4263 sq km of mangrove forest over the next three years. The objective is to collect such insects as bees, butterflies, moths and flies among others, which serve as pollinators for the mangrove plants. The scientists would look to identify their species and ascertain the role they play in pollination,” K Venkataraman, director of ZSI and principal investigator of the project, told HT.

Pollination is the biological term used to describe the process of transfer of pollen from the male to female flower. Insects and other small animals inhabiting the Sunderbans forest act as facilitators to the process and help in ferrying the pollens from the male to female flowers. Pollination is a pre-requisite for fertilisation, which in turn allows the flower to develop seeds.

“The Sunderbans is home to as many as 26 major species of mangroves. But without the insects they wouldn’t survive as they facilitate the pollination process and help the mangroves produce offspring,” Venkataraman said.

The scientists would venture into the creeks in boats and would also go scouring the forest on foot to track insects, take their photograph and make videos to study their behavioral patterns. “We would try to find how they help in pollination, the plants they pollinate, their lifecycle and the season in which they become active among others,” B Mitra, a scientist in the team, told HT.

Preliminary discussions have already been held with officials of the state forest department. The forest officials have pledged armed guards to the scientists during forays into tiger territory to track insects.

“The main flowering season in the Sunderbans is between January and April, and sometimes extends up to May. We would look to focus our study during that phase, as most of the pollinators become highly active then,” Mitra said.

Among the areas in the Sunderbans forest where the studies are likely to be concentrated are Jharkhali, Lothian Island and Bali. The team would set up camps and temporary laboratories in the Sunderbans to facilitate their study.

“We hope the project would lead us to some exciting discoveries. We might even stumble upon an entirely new species previously not known to science. We could even learn of some alien species that came to settle in the delta, but is harmful to the existing mangrove species and the animals inhabiting the delta,” Venkataraman said.

This is a novel venture in as much as the scientists have till date largely based their studies on tigers, as opposed to insects that are key to restoring the fragile eco-system of the delta.


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