M. Balakrishnan 1, R. C. Srivastava 2, and Mayank Pokhriyal 3
1, 2, 3 Bioinformatics Centre
Central Agricultural Research Institute, Port Blair
Our country is endowed with very rich flora and fauna. Andaman & Nicobar being the hotspot of biological diversity deserves the focus of our attention. The total land area of all these islands is only about 8249 sq. km of which about 86 % is covered with lush green rain forests. These islands are the vast repository of plants. Around 52 species are being used by the sub aboriginal groups. Out of over 2500 angiospermous species so far known from these islands about 246 are endemic. More than 1,500 plant species in the Indian subcontinent are on the verge of extinction and most of them are endemic Therefore adequate endeavors are needed for conservation of such invaluable biodiversity and for their sustainable use. One effective strategy would be the monitoring and documenting the information using a common format in the CD-ROM.
The Andaman-Nicobar group of islands is considered to be a veritable storehouse of plant biodiversity. Situated between two major biodiversity hotspot, namely the Indian subcontinent and the Malaysian-Indonesian region, it is hardly surprising that the Islands manifest biodiversity of extraordinary range within a limited geographical area. Geographically, the islands are part of the long Island Arch extending from the Arakan Yoma hill range of Myanmar to the Sumatran range of Indonesia. The unique positioning of these islands between the two major biodiversity areas endows it with an unmatched distribution of plants with representatives of the Indian, Myanmarese, Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian floras. The flora of the Andaman group of islands shows closer affinity to the Indo-Myanmarese-Thai flora, while the Nicobar groups of islands are closer to the flora of Malaysia-Indonesia (Balakrishnan and Ellis 1996). Nearly 2100 species of Angiosperms have been reported from the islands, of which 11% are strictly endemic to the islands (Balakrishnan and Ellis 1996). The diversity of plant forms have been documented, initially in British days (Parkinson 1923) and more recently by the Botanical Survey of India. In view of the rich biodiversity of the islands, several Indian crop-based research institutes have surveyed the islands and collected valuable germplasm.
Andaman and Nicobar Islands represents one of the richest repositories of biodiversity in the whole of south and south East Asia. These islands are a virtual bio reserve, which is unique both in terms of biodiversity and abundance. Situated between two major biodiversity hot spots, namely the Indian sub continent and the Malaysia- Indonesia region, it is hardly surprising that the islands manifest biodiversity of extraordinary range with in a limited geographical area. The biodiversity of thee islands ranges from medicinal plant resources, indigenous Orchid, agro biodiversity and economically important plant species like timber yielding plants.
Biodiversity in medicinal plants of Andaman and Nicobar Islands
India is a vast treasure house of Medicinal plants, almost 25000 plants have known for their medicinal value. Andaman Nicobar Islands is also one of the hotspots with a rich plant biodiversity of which medicinal plants are the integral part. The ethnomedicines of bay islands involves a diverse range of products derived from the surrounding flora and fauna. A number of studies have indicated that a large number of plant species are used by ethnic tribes and local people of bay islands for various ethanomedicinal properties for example species like Alstonia macrophylla, Morinda citrifolia are used in treatment of stomach ache, joint pain and fractured bones. The present study will document a few of such medicinal plants and their uses in Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Marine faunal diversity of Bay Islands
The Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) around Andaman and Nicobar Islands is vast, covering a sea area of 0.6 million sq.km i.e, 30% of EEZ of India. The Bay Islands enjoy the status of an archipelago and zoo geographically they are close to Indo-Malayan region, which is supposed to have contributed to the rich biodiversity of A & N Islands. Because of the limited studies on marine fauna of Bay Islands, their nature of evolution as isolated population or their endemism is little known. Nevertheless, it has been clear from the available literature that many marine fauna of these islands are similar to those of Indo-west Pacific. Marine habitats are quite varied and vast and their diverse fauna range from microscopic planktons to enormously weighing whales.
The orchids are distinctive plants and highly priced in the international florist trade due to their intricately designed spectacular flowers, brilliant colours, delightful appreance, myriad sizes and long- lasting qualities. Orchids represent the most highly evolved family Orchidaceae, among cotyledons. Orchid flowers have emerged as the leader in the international market and have immensely contributed to the economy of various countries.
Andaman and Nicobar islands possess about 110 species in naturalized state, of which about 25 species are endemic. Some of them are even figured out in the endangered and rare species category. Hence, it assumes great importance to collect and conserved them at this juncture.
Rice Genetic Resources of Bay Islands
Rice is the principal cereal crop of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Out of total 19901 ha cultivable land, rice covers 12000 ha alone. Majority of the rice growing area in Andamans is occupied by a tall traditional extremely long duration and stringently photosensitive cultivar C 14-8. There are around 11 cultivars of rice grown in these islands but in true sense cultivars, which we designate as local, are the once introduced from elsewhere at different elevations of time. They are the truly adapted genotypes, which have endured many years of the selection pressure in this wet humid tropic. Wild species are extremely limited in these islands except for the discovery of the new species, Oryza indandamanica Ellis in the recent past from Rutland. Eleven different lines/ cultivars of Oryza sativa collected so far are documented with the indigenous wild species Oryza indandamanica Ellis in the present database.
Insects of Andaman & Nicobar Islands
The Andaman& Nicobar Islands have a rich insect fauna, most of which like other areas in the tropical region remain unknown. According to the zoological survey of India, 1500 to 2000 species of insects have so far been discovered on these islands. These islands harbors a wide range of insect fauna which includes swallowtails (Lepidopetra: Papilonidae) which are the best studied family of butterflies. Out of the endemic species of swallowtails three have been found in these islands. Andaman and Nicobar islands is ranked 16th out of a total of 51 countries in the world that harbor critical swallowtail faunas. Similarly all of 6 species of wild silkmoth are also known from these islands. Only further studies on all the islands can bring to light numerous other insect populations that lie undiscovered in the forest of these islands. The insects species that are documented in this database are chosen on the basis in the uniqueness, rarity and economic importance.
Biodiversity of livestock and poultry
Main livestock in these islands are cattle, buffalo, goat, pig, poultry, a few horses and rabbits also. Out of 36 islands, 12 islands have no livestock what so ever and another 4 islands have a population less then 200 numbers. The North, South and Middle Andaman have major chunk of livestock in Andaman group of islands and Car Nicobar, Katchal are the centers having more concentration of livestock in Nicobar group of islands. At the same time cattle, buffalo and goat are the predominant livestock species in Andaman group of islands where as pig and goat are dominant in Nicobar Islands. This distribution clearly points out the food habits of people in the two regions. Poultry population in this region is predominantly desi i.e non-descript about 80% and only 20 % of the total 8 million poultry birds are high yielding or exotic breeds . Poultry is mostly concentrated in North Andaman 31.2%, Car Nicobar 21.77%, south Andaman 20.29% and middle Andaman 10.41% and rest of the islands have less then 10% poultry and seven islands have no poultry birds at all.
Seaweed resources of Andaman and Nicobar islands
Seaweeds are the macroscopic algae and form an important component of marine living resources and are mostly available in the intertidal zones of the sea were suitable substrata are available for growth. Seaweeds are used as foods, fodder, fertilizers and have wide applications in a variety of industries. Apart from these they are also important sources of protein, iodine, vitamins, minerals and substances of antibiotic nature. Survey of seaweed resources of Andaman and Nicobar Islands revealed that about 55 species of seaweeds are available in different parts of these islands. A systematic list of important seaweeds of Andaman is documented in the present database.
Under utilized fruits of Andaman
Andaman and Nicobar Islands are having a vast variety and diversity in under utilized wild tropical fruits, many of which are of evolutionary climate in specific niche. Most of these fruits trees have remained semi-domesticated while many species have become rare and endangered due to large scale urbanization. These under utilized fruits although having nutritional and commercial medicinal value are yet to be exploited to full potential. These under utilized fruits though contain all the essential ingredients of our diet, yet this are not recognized as important source of minerals and vitamins. These islands being rich in Biodiversity have a very large number of under utilized fruits but the information on the nutritive value is not available for all of them.
Timber plants of Andaman & Nicobar Islands
Andaman Forest is abound in plethora of timber species numbering 200 or more, out of which about 30 varieties are considered to be commercial. Major commercial timber species are Gurjan (Dipterocarpus spp.) and Padauk (Pterocarpus dalbergioides). The following ornamental woods are noted for their pronounced grain formation:
1. Marble Wood (Diospyros marmorata)
2. Padauk (Pterocarpus dalbergioides),
3. Silver Grey (a special formation of wood in white chuglam)
4. Chooi (Sageraea elliptical)
5. Kokko (Albizzia lebbeck)
Padauk is steadier than teak is widely and is used for furniture making.
Burr and the Buttress formation in Andaman Padauk are World famous for their exceptionally unique charm and figuring. Largest piece of Buttress known from Andaman was a dining table of 13'x 7'. The largest piece of Burr was again a dining table to seat eight persons at a time. The holy Rudraksha (Elaeocarps sphaericus) and aromatic Dhoop/Resin trees also occur here.
Andaman and Nicobar Islands represents one of the richest repositories of biodiversity in the whole of south and south East Asia. These islands are a virtual bio reserve, which is unique both in terms of biodiversity and abundance. The biodiversity of these islands ranges from medicinal plant resources, indigenous Orchid, agro biodiversity and economically important plant species like timber yielding plants. With so much diverse life in these islands there will be a need form making full use this biodiversity to its full potential. The computer application skills on biodiversity and related issues are not available much. More recently with the advent of CD-ROM and application software has made it possible to exploit the power of computers in a wide variety of application in agricultural production.