Guwahati, October 9: With delicate blue pansy like flowers and a beautiful habitat, the sighting of the Meconopsis merakensis in Tawang district of Arunachal Pradesh gladdened many hearts.
Yet this plant species, found for the first time in India from a high-altitude wetland in Arunachal Pradesh, faces the threat of climate change.
However, help is at hand as the Monpa community, residing in the vicinity, have come forward to take steps to ensure the protection of the species.
Sighting of the plant species
Scientists of G.B. Pant National Institute of Himalayan Environment (NIHE) and Botanical Survey of India (BSI) reported the Meconopsis merakensis, a plant species for the first time in India, at a height of 13,780 feet in the Nagula wetland area of Tawang district of Arunachal Pradesh.
The study has been recently published in Rheedea Journal (Journal of the Indian Association for Angiosperm Taxonomy).
Dr K.S. Kanwal, a scientist of GBP-NIHE told NewsfileOnline that during a floristic study of the high altitude wetland flora of the Tawang district of Arunachal Pradesh, specimens of Meconopsis were collected from different locations of Tawang district during the summer and rainy seasons of the years 2016 to 2018.
“One interesting Meconopsis taxon was collected from the alpine rocky slope near NagulaTso wetland area at an altitude of around 4200 metres) in the rainy season in 2018. Around 20 individuals of Meconopsis species were seen during the survey,” Kanwal said.
The habitat: NagulaTso Wetland Complex
The NagulaTso Wetland Complex (NWC) is situated north of the Tawang township of western Arunachal Pradesh, bordering China (Tibet).
The wetland complex contains more than 100 permanent alpine freshwater lakes distributed between 3,000 to 4420 metres altitudes.
Nagula Tso lake is known locally as Gribtsang Tsho.
The entire Nagula Tso area is a pilgrimage site of the Buddhist community (Monpa) of Tawang.
The species was found in 2017 from Merak and Sakten localities of Trashigang district in Bhutan.
The collected specimen possesses blue flowers, with spiny hairs covering the stem and leaves.
The plants occur on the northwest-facing Alpine meadows and rocky slopes in high-altitude Himalaya, between 3,800–4,500 metres.
The species is very rare and occurs in the field with scattered populations confined to some isolated pockets in the Northwest regions of the Nagula lake area.
It flowers from July to August. The height of the recorded plant specimen is around 1.20 foot.
The high altitude areas of eastern Himalaya remain largely botanically unexplored and the regions hold great potential for the discovery of many new species.
Climate change threat
“During the field survey, local people informed that they are observing less snowfall in high altitude, increase of temperature and presence of mosquitoes in high alpine areas. These are few signs of climate change which may change the phenology (flowering and fruiting time) of the species. The species may shift/move to higher reaches of the area,” said Kanwal.
“It was also observed in China, where seven species of Meconopsis have shown an upward shift in mean elevation of 302.3 metres between the pre-1970s (1922–1969) and the post-1970s (1970–2016) in the Himalaya–Hengduan Mountains region,” he added.
The plant species faces threats from livestock, mainly from trampling by yaks and horses, unregulated tourism, anthropogenic activities that result in the destruction and fragmentation of the species habitat.
The Monpa community of Tawang has strictly prohibited collection of fuel wood, fodder and other forest resources from the Nagula Tso sacred landscape under their community customary laws.
The majority of Meconopsis species are used in traditional herbal medicine systems and some species are also cultivated as ornamentals for their attractive flowers.
Suggestions for conservation of plant species
Kanwal said development of an onsite Meconopsis garden has been suggested in the high altitude area of Tawang for the germplasm conservation of Meconopsis species.
“An onsite garden means development of a herbal garden in the natural habitat of the species at Nagula wetland area. The state forest department, with the support of local community and research institutions, may develop this garden in the high altitude wetland areas of Tawang for in-situ conservation of the species,” he said.
“Though the local community is conserving it, there is also an urgent need to create more awareness about the rich and unique floral diversity of high altitude landscapes among the general populace for conservation,” Kanwal added.
Courtesy – Newsfile-online