Western Ghats Current Affairs - 2020

Fimbristylis agasthyamalaensis: New plant species discovered in Western Ghats

Researchers have discovered new grass-like plant species named Fimbristylis agasthyamalaensis in Ponmudi hills within the Agasthyamala Biosphere Reserve in the Western Ghats biodiversity hotspot. It has been classified as sedge, the grass-like plant and has been named after the locality from which it was found.

Key Facts

The new species of plant belongs to the Cyperaceae family. Its flowering and fruiting were observed from October to March. In India, Cyperaceae genus is represented by 122 species, of which 87 are reported from the Western Ghats. Many of the known Cyperaceae species are medicinal plants or used as fodder.

Threats

Fimbristylis agasthyamalaensis is highly prone to wild grazing. It is also subject to anthropogenic pressures as its habitat falls within tourism spot and perimeter of place of worship that could lead to its extinction in absence of scientific conservation. Researchers have recommended preliminary conservation assessment of plant as ‘critically endangered,’ according to IUCN criteria.

Agasthyamala Biosphere Reserve (ABR)

ABR in situated at the southern-most end of the Western Ghats and spread over two southern states Kerala and Tamil Nadu.  It was established in 2001. It is named after Agastya Mala peak that rises up to almost 1868 metres above sea level, in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.  In March 2016, it was included in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves of UNESCO.

ABR covers an area of 3,500 sq km at an altitude ranging from 100 metres to 1,868 metres above the Mean Sea Level. It covers Peppara and Shendurney wildlife sanctuaries and parts of the Neyyar sanctuary in Kerala and the Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve of Tamil Nadu.

Its flora mostly consists of tropical forests and is home to 2,254 species of higher plants including about 400 that are endemic. About 400 Red Listed Plants, 125 species of orchids and rare, endemic and threatened plants have been recorded from the reserve. It is also home to rare endimic animals include tiger, Asian Elephant, and Nilgiri Tahr. It is home to Kanikaran tribe, one of the oldest surviving ancient tribes in the world.

Nyctibatrachus mewasinghi: New night frog species discovered in Western Ghats

Scientists have discovered new species of frog named Mewa Singh’s night frog (Nyctibatrachus mewasinghi) in Kozhikode’s Malabar Wildlife Sanctuary, Kerala in Western Ghats. It was discovered in small stream running along the Peruvannamuzhi dam. It is latest contribution to spurt in amphibian discoveries across India.

About Mewa Singh’s night frog

It belongs to genus Nyctibatrachus (commonly known as night frogs) endemic only to Western Ghats mountain range. This group has total 36 number of night frogs including Mewa Singh’s night frog. It has been named in honour of wildlife scientist Mewa Singh for his contributions to behavioural ecology and primate studies.

The new night frog species is light brown in colour with an off-white underside. It sports faintly wrinkled skin with prominent granular projections. Currently, it is known only from Peruvannamuzhi in Malabar Wildlife Sanctuary in a small stream running along Peruvannamuzhi dam.

Background

Since many frogs in genus Nyctibatrachus look similar, scientists had used both physical characteristics as well as genetic methods to confirm frog as new species. Using tissue samples of 10 collected specimens of newly discovered species, scientists analysed portions of two genes and found that it varied enough from other closely-related species to make it different species.

They also had found that frog’s genetically closest relatives are Athirappilly night frog (found south of Palakkad Gap in Idukki and Thrissur) and Kempholey night frog (found in Western Ghats of Karnataka and northern Kerala).

Morphologically, it can be distinguished from its similar-looking and genetically close relatives by several physical characteristics, including pattern of its webbed fingers and toes.