BENGALURU: Fragmented and isolated forest patches can, in fact, turn into outbreak hotspots from where deadly diseases such as COVID-19 can emerge and increase transmission between people and wildlife, a recent study shows. Recent scientific findings show that roads and power transmission lines in wildlife sanctuaries and national parks have severely fragmented protected areas (PA). Such linear structures have created linear gaps and split a contiguous forested area into smaller patches, which restricted wildlife movement and led to severe consequences. Between 2014 and 2018, more than 7,000 applications were submitted for forest clearance.
Of these, a substantial number of forest clearance applications for linear projects were in the Western Ghats and Central India. In view of their findings, scientists from Foundation for Ecological Research, Advocacy and Learning (India), Centre for Wildlife Studies (India), University of Goettingen (Germany) and Columbia University (USA) have called for an environment-friendly approach when implementing linear projects in India.
“Most forested areas are directly impacted by infrastructure, with numerous small patches which will impede movement of wildlife and challenge biodiversity conservation efforts. These forest patches can serve as outbreak hotspots. Our analysis for the Western Ghats and Central India need to be extended to other valuable ecological areas in India,” says Krithi Karanth, chief conservation scientist at Centre for Wildlife Studies.
The findings revealed that Central India has a number of large patches (greater than 1,000 sqkm) than the Western Ghats, while patches in Central India are more isolated. Rajat Nayak, who led the study, said, “In a biodiversity-rich country like India, there is an urgent need to integrate conservation concerns into development projects. Either these structures should be re-routed or effective mitigation measures should be built.” Researchers also found that 70% of PA had linear infrastructure passing through them, with power lines and roads being most common, while pointing towards a 71.5% reduction in the number of large forest patches.