Ecosystem Profile: Western Ghats & Sri Lanka

The Ecosystem Profile
The Western Ghats, extending along the west coast of India, covers an area of 180,000 square kilometers (Figure 1). The Western Ghats comprises the major portion of the Western Ghats and Sri Lanka Hotspot, one of 34 global biodiversity hotspots for conservation and one of the two on the Indian subcontinent. The area is extraordinarily rich in biodiversity. Although the total area is less than 6 percent of the land area of India, the Western Ghats contains more than 30 percent of all plant, fish, herpetofauna, bird, and mammal species found in India. Like other hotspots, the Western Ghats has a high proportion of endemic species. The region also has a spectacular assemblage of large mammals and is home to several nationally significant wildlife sanctuaries, tiger reserves, and national parks. The Western Ghats contains numerous medicinal plants and important genetic resources such as the wild relatives of grains (rice, barley, Eleucine coracana), fruits (mango, garcinias, banana, jackfruit), and spices (black pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg).

In addition to rich biodiversity, the Western Ghats is home to diverse social, religious, and linguistic groups. The high cultural diversity of rituals, customs, and lifestyles has led to the establishment of several religious institutions that strongly influence public opinion and the political decision-making process. Conservation challenges lie in engaging these heterogeneous social groups and involving them in community efforts aimed at biodiversity conservation and consolidation of fragmented habitats in the hotspot.

Because it is a largely montane area that receives between 2,000 and 8,000 millimeters of annual rainfall within a short span of three to four months, the Western Ghats performs important hydrological and watershed functions. Approximately 245 million people live in the peninsular Indian states that receive most of their water supply from rivers originating in the Western Ghats. Thus, the soils and waters of this region sustain the livelihoods of millions of people. With the possible exception of the Indo-Malayan region, no other hotspot impacts the lives of so many people.

Biodiversity in the Western Ghats is threatened by a variety of human pressures. Of the approximately 180,000-square-kilometer area in the Western Ghats region, only one-third is under natural vegetation. Moreover, the existing forests are highly fragmented and facing the prospect of increasing degradation.

This ecosystem profile provides an overview of the causes of biodiversity loss, describes current institutional frameworks and investments for conservation, and outlines strategic directions that can be implemented by civil society to contribute to the conservation of biodiversity in the hotspot. Applicants will propose specific projects consistent with these broad directions and criteria. The ecosystem profile does not define the specific activities that prospective implementers may propose in the region, but outlines the strategy that will guide those activities.

The strategic directions seek to capitalize on the tremendous social and human resources of the region. The Western Ghats is home to a number of outstanding civil society organizations. Human capital in the Western Ghats is huge and extraordinarily well equipped, in terms of education and motivation, to undertake conservation action. CEPF investments will strengthen the fledgling participation of civil society in biodiversity conservation and provide resources to a range of civil society actors who seek to catalyze change and undertake innovative and effective approaches to conservation.

Map of the Western Ghats and Sri Lanka Hotspot

Source: Political boundaries from Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc.- Digital Chart of the World.

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Western Ghats & Sri Lanka

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