Bioresources in the Eastern Himalayas

Studying the immense diversity of lesser known plant and animal species in the Eastern Himalayas, how some of these biotic communities are shaped, and how they figure in people’s livelihoods.


Arunima Sikder, Deeke Doma Tamang and Swapna Mahananda

Sikkim Himalayas, which is a part of the global Hiamlayan biodiversity hotspot, harbors a diverse floristic composition. However, the warming effect has impacted these forests causing a tremendous loss in biodiversity, thereby posing challenges to maintain its ecosystem health and services. The knowledge of factors driving the forest composition and dynamics in this region are currently inadequate but crucial in predicting future trajectories of these forests. We assessed the role of biotic and abiotic factors in explaining woody plant species richness patterns and floristic composition of Sikkim Himalayan forests along an elevation gradient of 500-2200 m. The forests were divided into grids of 6.3 km x 6.3 km and data on diversity, abundance and size class of trees were collected from linear transects (10x1000 m). The tree species richness values from 27 grids and the ecological factors, i.e., i) biotic- size classes of trees ( ≥ 2.5 cm diameter at breast height (DBH), ≥ 10 cm DBH), tree height and ii) abiotic (temperature, precipitation, soil moisture, relative humidity, and elevation), were tested for correlation (Spearman’s rank correlation) and regressed (Structural Equation Modelling). The SEM regression led us to the conclusion that a combined set of biotic and abiotic factors (i.e., DBH, tree height, relative humidity, and elevation) exhibit a better result (R2=0.55) in explaining woody plant species richness along elevation, rather than any single biotic or abiotic factor. Identification of the major drivers of species richness in Sikkim Himalayan forests will enable a comprehensive understanding and therefore efficient conservation planning in the face of prevalent warming effects, which incurs a loss not only to the biodiversity but also the human livelihoods dependent on it.

Aswaj Punnath, Priyadarsanan Dharma Rajan

Ants are the world’s most successful group of eusocial insects. They constitute 25% of the animal biomass in tropical rainforests and occupy keystone positions in many terrestrial environments. Ants are among the leading predators of invertebrates in most ecosystems. Various ant species participate in symbiotic relationships with more than 465 plant species in about 52 families, with thousands of arthropod species, fungi and microorganisms. Some ant lineages have evolved astonishing adaptive specializations [seed harvesting, herding and milking of other insects, communal nest weaving, cooperative hunting in packs, social parasitism, and slave-making] that have fueled the curiosities of scientists as well as the general public.
Ants live in a wide variety of habitats ranging from underground soil to large canopies, cold temperate region to warm tropics and also in urban dwellings. A vast majority of them are found in leaf litters. Most of the leaf litter ants are minute and cryptic in their behaviour making them difficult to locate with our naked eye.
This study was designed to unveil the diversity of cryptic leaf litter ants. We have followed a standardised sampling protocol in seven different forest regions of Mizoram state, Northeast India using the Winkler extraction method. We collected 1235 individual ants belonging to 58 species and 38 genera. The discovery of Protanilla gengma Xu, 2012 marks the first record of the subfamily Leptanillinae from Northeast India. Two new species of Myrmecina were also discovered from Mizoram. Strumigenys ailaoshana is reported for the first time from the Oriental region (earlier report from China) and Strumigenys caniophanes for the first time from India (earlier report from Thailand).

Thangsuanlian Naulak and Sunita Pradhan

ATREE, Regional Office Eastern Himalaya-Northeast India, Gangtok, Sikkim-737102

Socio-ecological landscapes (SELs) are an important repository for biodiversity. Systematic documentation of mammals can be an important tool for identifying conservation measures. We recorded mammals from two major farming systems in Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalaya -Tea Cultivation (TCS) and Agro-ecosystem (AES) using camera traps, mist nets, bat detectors and sherman traps. Analysis were done using RStudio packages, camtrapR and Vegan. 41 species of mammals from nine orders were recorded, of which 19.5% are of global conservation significance. Camera trapping data from 8 sites showed non-significant differences between mammal communities in the two systems. Beta diversity analysis also showed low dissimilarity, low nestedness and low species turnover indicating that species composition across both systems are similar. Disentangling the effect of land-use mosaic on species richness at a finer scale along with the ability of each farming system to accommodate landscape connectivity at a coarser scale may be key to the process of devising effective conservation strategies for mammals in SELs.

Femi E Benny, Thejavikho Chase, Priyadarsanan Dharma Rajan

Insects as food and feed emerge as a relevant issue in the twenty-first century where alternative solutions to conventional livestock and feed sources need to be found urgently. In India, several communities in the Northeast use insects as food, feed and for medicine. Among the tribes of the Northeast, insects of the order Hymenoptera is one of the most preferred delicacies and also considered a health supplement.
The present study was carried out through market surveys, direct interviews and field collections in the Northeast to document ethnozoological knowledge among the indigenous communities. Around 28 species of this order are consumed and used in traditional medicine in this area. Also, several edible insects of this order like hornets are being successfully domesticated here.
The ethnographic surveys carried out among the ethnic tribes revealed that chemicals generated by Hymenopterans like bees, hornets and other wasps for self-defense are being used in entomotherapeutics for the treatment of a variety of ailments like rheumatoid arthritis, stomach disorders, skin diseases, pain and infections, cancer, tissue repair and so on.
Keywords: Entomophagy, Entomotherapeutics, Northeast India, Insects, Sustainable management

Insects are the most successful organism of the animal kingdom and they dominate the world with their abundance and biomass. Their small size, presence of a protective shell or exoskeleton and ability to fly help them to escape from enemies and dispersal to new habitats. They have a great potential for adaptation to adverse or changing environments. The ability to produce large number of offspring and short life cycle made them dominant group on earth. Insects constitute about three-fourths of the total organisms present on earth. There are about 30 insect orders under class Insecta and order coleopteran (beetles) is the most species rich order of animals. However, if we consider the number of undescribed species, another order of insects namely, the Hymenoptera can achieve the status of largest insect order. Hymenoptera is one of the largest insect order, comprising the sawflies, wasp, bees and ants. The name Hymenoptera is derived from the ancient Greek words for hymen, meaning membrane and pteron, meaning wings. Thus Hymenopterans are characterised by the presence of two pairs of membranous wings. However, some of them may be wingless such as some species of female wasps and the worker caste of ants. Ants belong to the family Formicidae is one of the largest group of insect in the order Hymenoptera. Ants are notable for their ecological dominance, high biomass and complex eusocial colony structures. They perform major ecological functions such as predation, scavenging, soil turnover, nutrient cycling and pollination. Belongs to family Formicidae and it has 17 sub-families of which Myrmicinae has 145 extant genera.
The ant genus Strumigenys Smith, 1860 is one of the largest and most conspicuous genera in the subfamily Myrmicinae, belonging to the tribe Attini. The ants belonging to this tribe and their fungal cultivars represent a classic example of mutualism. They obligately depend on the cultivation of fungus for food and in return provide the fungus with nourishment, protection from pathogens and competitors, and dispersal. Strumigenys is a hyperdiverse ant genus both taxonomically and morphologically. The genus are distributed worldwide in the tropics, subtropics and warm temperate regions. The majority of species are cryptic soil inhabitants, nesting and foraging in leaf litter, topsoil layers, or wood pieces or stumps found on topsoil. The genus Strumigenys is currently represented by 851 described species and 4 fossil species and they show remarkable difference in morphology particularly in mandibular characteristics. In India, 24 species have been recorded so far out of which 14 are known from the Northeast India.
The study was based on a collection of the ant genus Strumigenys from the Northeast India. For the study samples were collected from Northeast India, It comprises of the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Tripura, Mizoram, Nagaland and Sikkim. They are often physiographical categorized as the Eastern Himalayas and the Northeast hills. Samples were collected by Winkler extraction method and Pitfall traps. This study is wholly dedicated to analyse and explore the cryptic and litter dwelling ant species Strumigenys.

Abriti Moktan1, Abhishek Samrat2 and Rohit George3

1,3ATREE: Regional Office Eastern Himalaya -Northeast India, NH 10 Tadong Gangtok-737101, Sikkim, India

2ATREE, Royal enclave, Jakkur Post, Srirampura, Bangalore-560064, India

High Conservation Value Areas (HCVAs) are defined as natural areas of outstanding significance due to their high biological, ecological, socio-cultural values. This is important for Sikkim which is rich in biodiversity, traditional agriculture systems, and cultural diversity yet vulnerable to climate change and unplanned development. 6 globally recognized High Conservation Value (HCV) categories formed the basis of the research design. These were subdivided into 22 sub-categories appropriate to Sikkim’s context. Habitat suitability distribution models were generated for HCV1 and for the remaining categories raster sum and scaling was done followed by validation through expert consultations and ground truthing. Areas of HCV were determined by superimposing different HCV category and threat category maps. Thresholding was performed for these combined layers to obtain HCVA polygons. 22 HCVAs were delineated -12 in North 10 in West district. Management recommendations were formulated for each of HCVA through 14 field level stakeholder consultations.

Mollusca is a group of species-rich invertebrates that inhabit different habitats across the world. The terrestrial molluscs represent a significant component of the edaphic invertebrate community and are important for the proper ecosystem functioning. The rising anthropogenic activities like habitat alteration, climate change, and others are the concerns for the molluscan communities, leading to a high risk of extinction (IUCN Redlist 2019). Nevertheless, the information about land mollusc is minimal in most geographical areas due to under-sampling and poor taxonomic knowledge, lack of interest toward malacology and others (Triantis et al. 2008).
The terrestrial molluscs can be grouped into micro (< 5 mm on its greatest dimension) and macro (≥ 5 mm) based on their adult shell size. The present study has been conducted to explore the species diversity of Diplommatina (shell size 1.3-8 mm) from the northeast Indian state of Mizoram. At first, the soil-leaf litter samples of 4-5 kg have been collected across different parts of the state covering altitudinal gradients, various forest types. The collected samples were manually sorted in the laboratory in search of micromolluscs, especially the diplommatinids, followed by the microscopic examination. Further, the identification of minute micro molluscs was done based on their traditional shell characters using existing literature. ImageJ software was used for morphological measurements, followed by morphometrics to analyze them.
The present study revealed the presence of eight species belonging to Diplommatina from this region unlike the earlier record of only one dextral species, D. butleri. Besides, the study also discovered six dextral and five sinistral (singletons) new species to science. Lack of enough sampling may be one of the reasons with regards to the singletons. Further, extensive sampling will help in understanding the diversity of this genus along with other micro molluscan communities. It is important to document the diversity of land molluscs in the region with rising anthropogenic activities which have degraded the edaphic communities including terrestrial molluscs. Overall, the present study will provide the baseline data for the larger goals of biodiversity monitoring and conservation.
Keywords: Species, Diplommatina, taxonomy, morphology, microscopy, morphometrics, northeast India.

Sneha Haridas, Seena Narayanan Karimbumkara and Priyadarsanan Dharma Rajan

The true dung beetles belonging to the sub-family Scarabaeinae, a group with 6000+ species known worldwide play an important role in dung removal, soil fertilization, nutrient cycling and other ecological functions. The Northeast India biogeographic region, is a meeting point of two of the world’s biodiversity hotspots, and houses 205 known species of Scarabaeinae. State wise species reports from this group indicate that certain states like Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh have relatively higher reports compared to other states like Nagaland and Mizoram. The species discovery curve of the Northeast Indian Scarabaeinae was plotted, and it indicated two distinct periods of descriptions in 1931 and 2000, apart from which the rate of discoveries in the region have been slow. Body size and range of species were found to be weak indicators of the date of description and the pattern of Scarabaeinae species discovery in the region. A mapping of the type localities of the species, suggests that most of the discoveries were around major cities with easier accessibility. We thereby exemplify the gaps in the inventory of the Northeast Indian Scarabaeinae. Incomplete distribution information leads to several challenges regarding lack of clarity on the ecology and conservation status of the taxa. Our recent standardized explorations from four Northeast Indian states (Mizoram, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam) yielded 145 species belonging to 18 different genera, of which 5 species are new to science and 5 are reported for the first time from India. Additionally, several of them are new reports to Northeast India and many are new to each state. The results stress on the need for systematic inventorying and for long-term monitoring of ecologically important, yet underexplored taxa such as Scarabaeinae in the region.

Deeke Doma Tamang, Arunima Sikder and Swapna Mahanand

Sikkim Himalaya and the Himalayan forests of Assam and West Bengal states are the habitats for highly diverse biodiversity, and repository of biological resources, indigenous knowledge and diverse ethnicity. Various developmental activities in the mountainous region may enhance the socioeconomic status of the people but it exerts pressure on the bio-resources. Our work is focused on identifying and quantifying the use and trade of bio-resources across markets and villages in Sikkim. The study evaluated the use and trade of bio-resources across markets and villages in Sikkim. Data on diversity and quantity of bio-resources collected from 22 markets over different seasons during 2019-2021 showed 85 species. The data sourced on bio-resources usage from 10 households listed 122 species. They are used and traded in the form of food, fodder, fuelwood, medicine, fermenters, handicrafts, ornamentals, etc. Overall, it is observed that the bio-resources sourced from the wild played an important role in subsistence and income generation activities in the households of the indigenous community. The wild bio-resources subjected to market availability provided immense opportunities to people in generating employment and improving the livelihoods of the communities. We envisage a huge potential in bio-resource trade in providing food security and improving the livelihoods of the indigenous communities in the Himalayan forests. We also realize the importance of practicing sustainability practices in all the stages starting from harvesting to trading in order to conserve the biological resources.

Insect Lab, ATREE

According to a United Nations study, the global population is rapidly increasing, and in order to feed this growing population, food consumption will rise as well. Consider eating insects as a solution to this issue. Entomophagy, which means eating insects, is an age-old practise that is still practised on all continents except Antarctica. So far, 2140 insects have been recognised as being consumed by 3000 ethnic groups around globe. Entomophagy has a long history in India, particularly in the North Eastern provinces. These indigenous peoples eat insects to supplement their protein intake. Because these insects have more protein, fat, carbs, and other vital micronutrients including fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals than a comparable amount of regular meat. These insects are not only utilised as food, but also as medication to treat minor illnesses. The current work focuses on edible beetles and weevils in North East India, with the aim of documenting the diversity of insects eaten by tribal communities as well as their cultural significance.

Northeast India is extraordinarily rich in biodiversity that remains largely unexplored. Although a number of studies have been reported in pockets on the floral and faunal bioresources of the region, an extensive study of the rich biodiversity is being undertaken in a multi-institutional project, “Bioresources and Sustainable Livelihoods in Northeast” funded by Department of Biotechnology, India. Under the same project, a major program has been launched to strengthen human capacity and communication strategy to convey the ecological and economic significance of bioresources to the custodians of the region. This is undertaken through a series of targeted workshops, short courses and communication products like newsletters, web site and social media-based campaigns to involve the people from all walks of the region. The team has successfully conducted 12 technical and 6 citizen science workshops across the Northeastern region catering to more than 500 students, young researchers, teachers and local youths. These programs have been designed to better equipped human resource ready to deal with any upcoming issue related to either exploration of bioresources or a sustainable use of it. Besides the local participants, these programs also involve representatives of local bodies, forest officials of respective region, scientists from Botanical and Zoological Survey of India. A number of eminent scientists and professors from across the country have been involved in training the youths. Communication through various print and digital tools are enabling the researchers, general public and policy-makers to access the interesting discoveries and studies conducted in the project and also of major developments undertaken in biodiversity science and use of the bioresources. In a nutshell, the multi-institutional programme aims not only to explore the existing diversity of the region, but also to strengthen human capacity to address modern challenges of biodiversity and sustainability.