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Conservation and Society
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Conservation and Society
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Year : 2005  |  Volume : 3  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 537-539

Biodiversity of Mangrove Ecosystems

Fellow, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), India

Correspondence Address:
Kartik Shanker
659, 5th A Main Road, Hebbal, Bangalore 560024
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

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Date of Web Publication11-Jul-2009

How to cite this article:
Shanker K. Biodiversity of Mangrove Ecosystems. Conservat Soc 2005;3:537-9

How to cite this URL:
Shanker K. Biodiversity of Mangrove Ecosystems. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2005 [cited 2022 Oct 5];3:537-9. Available from: https://www.conservationandsociety.org.in//text.asp?2005/3/2/537/55820

K. Kathiresan and S.Z. Qasim. Biodiversity of Mangrove Ecosystems. Hindustan Publishing Corporation, New Delhi, 2005, 251 pp. Price: $48. ISBN 81- 7075-079-2.

Mangroves have become prominent after the tsunami of December, 2004 in the Indian Ocean. Long touted as hotspots of coastal diversity, this ecosystem has now gained prominence for its role in protecting the coast from the impact of the tsunami. The role of mangroves as a coastal shield is well known in the context of storm surges and cyclones. It is believed that during the cyclone in Orissa in 1999, areas adjacent to Bhitarkanika, which have the only intact mangroves in the region, were relatively less affected than those that either had no vegetation or exotics such as Casuarina. Kathiresan and Qasim therefore provide a timely account of mangrove ecosystems. Interestingly, the book was already with the publishers when the tsunami struck, and the authors were only able to add a small note about the role of mangroves in this context. Mangroves, also called tidal forests, coastal woodlands or oceanic rainforests, are tropical or subtropical woody plants that occur in bays, estuaries, lagoons, backwaters and along rivers up to the point where the water retains some salinity.

Though it focuses on the biodiversity of mangroves, this book under review deals with the all aspects of mangrove ecosystems. Beginning with a general introduction to mangroves, the authors deal with the physical environment and adaptations of mangroves to this environment. Mangroves have evolved a suite of adaptations to enable them to cope with an extreme environment including high salinity, tidal variations, strong winds, high temperatures and anaerobic tidal swamps. These adaptations include the extensive supporting roots of Rhizophora, the pneumatophores or breathing roots of Avicennia, and plank roots, knee roots and buttress roots in various other species. All these roots occur above the soil. Additionally, mangroves have salt-excreting leaves to help them cope with the salinity and viviparous water dispersed seedlings. These unique adaptations allow them to flourish in an environment where other plants cannot, leading to the formation of remarkable mangrove forests in the coastal deltas of river systems.

In the following chapters, the authors provide an account of the distribution and diversity of mangroves. There is a brief account of the global occurrence of mangroves and a more comprehensive account of their distribution in India. Following this is a detailed account of floral diversity. Here the authors distinguish major mangrove species from minor and associated species as those that occur exclusively in 'mangal' or mangrove forest communities. They provide a species-wise distribution of mangroves in the world by region, in the Indian Ocean by country, and in India on the east and west coasts of India, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Additionally, they also provide information on species of plants in saltmarshes, seagrass species in mangrove habitats, algae, bacteria, fungi and lichens.

The authors then discuss the faunal diversity of mangroves, and list prawns (50 species), lobsters (5), crabs (134), insects (705), mollusks (302) and other invertebrates from various phyla. They also document finfish species (543) and other vertebrates. Of particular note in India amongst large vertebrates are the tigers of the Sundarbans and the saltwater crocodiles, now present only in Bhitarkanika in Orissa and in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. I encountered a number of errors in the account of vertebrates, perhaps because this is not an area of expertise for the authors or their colleagues. Principally, unlike in the case of plants, the authors fail to distinguish those species which occur incidentally or additionally in mangroves from those that occur exclusively in mangroves, which makes this account less valuable. Furthermore, all accounts of floral and faunal diversity are referenced to an earlier review by one of the authors, and one is unable to distinguish which is based on their primary work and which on those of other workers. This makes it difficult to assess the quality of the information.

The following chapters deal with energy flow and ecological roles of mangrove ecosystems. This is followed by a series of chapters on the uses of mangroves, causes of destruction and decline, and conservation and management. Though these chapters provide some information, there is no synthetic account that could provide an overview of the problems and conservation approaches in India or in the region. In particular, the section that deals with the protection of mangroves in India is weak. There is not a sufficiently detailed analysis of the extent of mangroves that are currently protected by the state or by community efforts.

The coastal and marine environment in India does not receive the same degree of protection that terrestrial ecosystems do from the state. There are only three marine sanctuaries on the mainland coast, with two more in the Andaman Islands. While many wildlife sanctuaries do include coastal areas and mangroves, the degree of protection is still weak. However, some conservationists see this as an advantage and as an opportunity to introduce civil society and community-based efforts for conservation. In fact, the coastal regulation zone which can be used to protect ecologically sensitive areas, prohibits activities and not people. In general, this approach is more suited to areas that already have a significant human presence. Thus, it would have been useful to have an account that synthesised the status of mangroves with current practices, legal regimes and potential conservation approaches.

Coastal and marine ecology is in infancy in India, though both authors and their colleagues at their respective institutions have done a good deal of work in this area thus far. Professor Kathiresan, at the Centre of Advanced Study in Marine Biology, Annamalai University, has spent much of his professional life studying mangroves. This book provides a useful compendium of information for those who plan to initiate biological or ecological studies on mangroves, which may gain in considerable significance in the near future. A final comment needs to be made on the future of mangroves. In the days and months following the tsunami, much has been made of mangroves and other species as coastal bioshields. A great deal of caution needs to be exercised in planting exotics which could have adverse ecological impacts and in planting mangroves where the habitat is not suitable. Thus, careful studies need to accompany restoration of mangroves and establishment of bioshields.


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