Get to know your urban ecosystem

Get to know your urban ecosystem
Urban ecosystems that are developed and modified by human beings are proving to be extremely useful for biodiversity survival and conservation. Just compare the beginning of the 20th century, when less than 15 per cent of the world’s human population lived in urban areas, with today, when more than half do. And the curiosity of biologists to understand the distribution, abundance and interactions of urban flora and fauna has resulted in the development of a new science, which is called urban ecology. The new age ecologists advanced towards turning practical and they included human beings also as a part of the ecosystem.

The aim of urban ecology is to understand how humans and ecological processes can coexist in human dominated systems and help societies with their efforts to become more sustainable. Under this perspective, the city or town is a set of strongly interacting systems or spheres. The urban ecosystem includes abiotic spheres — the atmosphere (air), hydrosphere (water sources), lithosphere (rocks) and pedosphere (soil). Then there are the biotic spheres — urban plants and animals, plus the socio-economic spectrum of people — the anthroposphere.

Humans are part of the biotic component of an ecosystem and their activities impact ecological processes in significant ways. One good example are the mudflats of Sewri in Mumbai which, during a season, has a huge population of as many as 20,000 flamingos. The Mumbai based organisation, BNHS, organises a flamingo festival each year to motivate locals to keep the area safe and clean.

As Mumbai based herpetologist, Kedar Bhide, tells us, there are 36 species of snakes in Mumbai city and these are pretty useful in rodent control. He even goes on to say that 70 per cent of the fires caused by short circuits are generated by these rodents when they bite electrical wires. So, instead of releasing the snakes in forest areas in the name of snake rescue, they should be allowed to exist as they do in the drainage systems for they help get rid of these rodents.

Road and rail side plantations are also very important for butterflies. A butterfly watcher of Mumbai, Vidya Venkatesh, says at least 150 species of butterflies exist in the city, many of which survive on the wild plants that can be found growing around the tracks. A biologist, Chetan Rao, gives another example of a milk producing area of Mumbai — Aarey colony — where 1,500-2,000 cattle live. The area has various grazing lands and lakes there which also support many other species.

However, all these urban eco-systems are under constant threat by real estate developers who are encroaching on these areas in their quest for residential complexes. A new road, some construction at the seashore or simply wrong plantations can cause irreversible damages to the species around us. Hence, every city or town should be assessed for its biodiversity and further development should be planned with a proper vision so that the urban ecosystem can be kept alive. They are not only supporting us, but they also need our support. Time for mankind now to give back to nature.

(The writer is a conservation biologist at Tiger Watch, Ranthambore)

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