Forests. For most in a city of Pune, the idea of a forest is something foreboding with huge trees either in the Konkan on in the Sahyadris where there live a wide variety of plants, animals, reptiles and insects. To most of us this is the standard definition of a forest with all its bells and whistles.
In reality forests have as much character as humans with as many variations and individuality. What, you may ask constitutes a forest ecosystem and where do the variations lie?
In the Indian context, a forest ecosystem consists of the following:
– The non-life constituents: These typically include the location of a forest. It could be on the Deccan plateau, the Konkan/ Sahydri range of hills or right besides the sea. The land on which the forest grows and the other aspects such as location, availability of water, soil conditions, weather, temperature, airflows and rainfall etc contribute to the type of forest cover you find there.
– The living inhabitants of the forest: Plant life, Animals, Insects, Fungi etc constitute the living life forms and can differ greatly from forest to forest. For example, the cold, high mountains of the north is the home for coniferous trees like the pine and what one may find as animals are snow leopards, wolves, large apso-like dogs and Himalayan eagles, mountain goats etc. The same cannot be said of forests along the coast where the ecosystems and animal life change drastically. Here you find leopards with lesser pelt, cows and buffaloes, dogs and cats. Life in the thick undergrowth is teeming with snakes, lizards, scorpions and crabs with caterpillars of various kinds giving the company. Bees and flying insects including various kinds of mosquitoes too abound here.
In the Indian context, forests can be broadly characterized as
– Coniferous: Found around the snowline of the Himalayas, the Pine constitutes its main type. There are no leaves on these trees; only downward sloped branches covered with pines in place of leaves. Given that these places are low on humidity with snow likely to cover them once a year, these pines are perfect as they do not give out any humidity and protect the tree from snow.
– Evergreen: Found abundantly in hot and humid places like the Konkan coast and the North-east, these form thick cover over high over the ground where they grow with very little sunlight penetrating the cover of leaves and branches. The ground thus remains moist and a breeding ground for countless species of fungi, insects, invertebrates and special kinds of plants like ferns. They appear green throughout the year as they sprout fresh leaves immediately on the old ones falling off, meaning there is no fixed period of fall as is the case of deciduous trees.
– Deciduous: Most of Indian forest is of this kind. These have fixed time in the year when the leaves begin to fall which is mostly during the winters which begin re-growing around March before the arrival of the monsoons. The monsoons are when the leaves come back in full bloom. The ground below the trees is moist but nowhere near evergreen forests.
– Mangroves: These are found near river deltas and coasts typically where the rivers meet the sea. They are unique in that they can co-exist equally well in fresh and saline waters and have roots that grow partly in water and partly outside. Thick, small leaves characterize these plants which are quite difficult to uproot and are thus most suited to stop soil erosion which is a frequent occurrence near deltas.