20 June, 2021

From Seed To Forest

The slow road of ecological restoration

Elephants walk in a tea garden n Valparai, once a rainforest
Photograph by Kalyan Varma
From Seed To Forest

Two decades ago, wildlife biologists Divya Mudappa and T.R. Shankar Raman dabbled with the idea of growing rainforest saplings and planting them on degraded forest patches. This was in a section of the Western Ghats in Valparai, Tamil Nadu, where vast swathes of rainforests were cleared since colonial times for commercial tea, eucalyptus, cardamom and coffee plantations. The once vibrant, pristine forests are today almost razed to the ground.

When they started, the ­biologists had no prior experience in this kind of regeneration effort and a humungous task, next to impossible, lay ahead of them. The idea to ­rebuild a forest came from Mudappa’s doctoral thesis on plant-animal interaction, which went on to build a connect on how the seeds that passed through the nocturnal brown civet’s digestive system, and were excreted by the frugivorous small carnivore in the tropical rainforest, ­germinated better. Civets help in dispersal of seeds in the forest ecosystem. In her fieldwork, Mudappa had the daunting task of trekking in the rainforest around...

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