APN News

  • Tuesday, June, 2024| Today's Market | Current Time: 01:08:10
  •  By Gurpreet Virk, Dhruv Lokare, Ananya Mahadevan students of FLAME University.

    Lying in the foothills of the Sahyadri hills, the city of Pune has prided itself on its extensive biodiversity. The city was built at the intersection of the Mula and Mutha rivers and hosted a multitude of ecosystems; from the terrestrial diversity of the western ghats and the Deccan plateau to the aquatic and avian life of its waterbodies. However, Pune now faces severe challenges to its ecological richness from anthropogenic changes that demand immediate attention.

    Having lost over a third of its wetlands in just a few decades, the rapid urbanization in the city has been a growing concern. As the urban sprawl grows, its pristine habitats face the threat of being replaced by evergrowing concrete. The increase in population is taking its toll as it requires the construction of more housing, transportation services, and energy infrastructure. Such development has led to mass deforestation and continues to threaten the remaining reserves in the city. Vetal Tekdi is one such area where the flora and fauna are at risk due to the expansion of roads. This not only disturbs the wildlife and increases human-wildlife conflict, but also worsens groundwater recharge and the flow of water, impacting the long-term health of the region. The Salim Ali bird sanctuary too, has faced similar problems from metro and road construction, which has destroyed the habitats of many birds and caused irreversible damage.

    As the city urbanizes, the loss of ecological habitats creates a loss of distinctiveness in plant and animal life that it once used to have. Such sprawls, built solely with a human-centric view, significantly reshape the environment and lead to Pune’s manicured landscape being barely any different from other cities. The presence of similar urban centers such as roads, buildings, bridges, etc allows only a few species accustomed to urban areas to thrive in the city. Only a few kinds of flora and fauna adapt to such areas, causing a great increase in their population while the others decline. This lack of diversity across cities causes biotic homogenization, the phenomenon of the environment becoming increasingly similar across regions and losing its uniqueness.

    As the city loses its interconnectedness with native ecosystems, the conditions become ideal for the spread of invasive species. These include rats, pigeons, dogs, and monkeys among other species that we often see in large numbers in urban areas. The growth of non-native species is considered a significant threat to the city’s ecosystems. Although we see larger animals more often, these also include trees, plants, fishes, and smaller organisms that can take over their ecological niches. Lantana, Cosmos, and Congress Grass are some of the most notorious native plants that have spread across the country and destroyed habitats for several species. The foraging habits of the Blackbuck have been severely affected due to the growth of these invasive plants.

    Pune’s waterbodies have seen the most significant impacts of the spread of invasive species. Ipomoea and Eupatorium surround the waterbodies replacing the native babul trees and marsh grass, introduced fishes outcompete native ones, and giant snails are now a common sight. These are all highly invasive species that have shaken local ecosystems. Even then, visitors may not see their impacts on the ecosystems. However, the growth of Water Hyacinth in Pune’s waterbodies has been so devastating it is impossible to ignore them. When one of us visited Pashan Lake, the first thing that could be noticed was an entire carpet of green. It was astonishing not to be able to spot water in a lake. The water hyacinth has been a huge blow to the ecological diversity of the lake and the Mula-Mutha River and caused a massive reduction in the migratory activity of birds and animals.

    The growth of water hyacinth signifies excessive organic content in water due to the release of untreated sewage and dumping of industrial waste. As the hyacinth covers the water bodies, the organisms under it are starved of oxygen and sunlight. Although there have been attempts at lake and water-body restoration, they are often combined with desiltation and beautification plans that end up being disastrous. Desiltation is carried out without regard for microscopic life in the beds, drastically affecting the waterbody’s health. Beautification plans leave out the connection between the water and the land, where crucial riparian flora and fauna live. Past projects, undertaken without a proper understanding of these sensitive ecosystems, have only worsened the situation. These changes disrupt the entire ecosystem as they impact even the plankton and water fleas at the base of the food chain. 

    Pune’s delicate ecosystems face immense challenges due to anthropogenic changes. Rapid development and unplanned growth have resulted in extensive degradation of vital habitats that support diverse ecological life. The burden is then upon us to make informed interventions that balance development with conservation. Acknowledging the interconnectedness of each of our environment’s components is necessary to pave the way for sustainable coexistence between urban development and the preservation of our natural diversity.

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