Protecting Flora and Fauna
By Risidra Mendis
Protecting fauna and flora in a country rich in biodiversity such as Sri Lanka, has never been an easy task. Over the years, the country has lost many important and rare species, due to over exploitation, forest destruction, development activities, and illegal encroachments. The time has now come to protect what is left of these rare and valuable fauna and flora.
Keeping in mind the need to protect these species the National Red List Flora 2020 and the National Red List of Assessment of the Fresh Water Fishes of Sri Lanka 2020 were completed, with the technical collaboration of the National Herbarium of the Department of National Botanic Gardens (DNBG) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Sri Lanka country office with the floral experts and the Freshwater fishes experts groups. The two books were launched recently by the Environment Ministry’s Biodiversity Secretariat.
First global Red List
“The first global Red List was published in 1966 in Sri Lanka. The first list of threatened plants was published in 1987 by late Prof. D. Abeywickrema and was improved in 1983. However, the proper Red List was published by the IUCN in 1999 but that list didn’t include all flora,” Former Director General of the National Botanic Gardens Peradeniya Prof. Siril Wijesundara said. He said in 2007 it was increased and published by IUCN and in 2012 the Red List was taken over by the Environment Ministry biodiversity secretariat. “We were able to assess the entire flora.
The Red List is not just a list of species and their status. It is a powerful tool to inform and catalyse action for biodiversity conservation and policy change critical to protecting the natural resources we need to survive. This is important for policy changes and to protect the natural resources,” Prof. Wijesundara explained. He said under flora algae, fungi, lichens bryophytes, ferns and seed plants are all included. “There are 350 species of ferns and 42 are endemic species. Out of the 350 species 207 are threatened and out of the 42 endemic species 28 are threatened.
25 species including four endemic species have not been collected in this century. Those species may possibly be extinct. But we hope in the future some of these will be rediscovered. From the Gymnosperms the maha madu is Critically Endangered,” Prof. Wijesundara said. He added that flowering plants according to the 2020 survey has 3,087 species out of which 1,496 are threatened. “Out of the 863 endemic species 625 are threatened and two species are extinct. The main endemic areas include the Central Highlands, South Western Wet Zone Northern Highlands, Eastern Highlands, Ritigala, Dolu Kanda, Yala, Wilpattu and Jaffna. Some species are only found in those dry zone areas. Two species are extinct and we have only dry specimens. Two species that are extinct in the wild Alphonsea hortensis and Eugenia xanthocarpa are believed to be found only in cultivations and at the Botanical Garden. If not for the Botanical Garden these two species would be gone,” the Professor said.
Threats to the indigenous flora may range from direct causes such as habitat loss and environmental pollution to indirect factors such as unavailability of pollinators or dispersal agents. Whatever the causal factors there may be, the proportion of threatened angiosperm plant species is exceedingly high. He added that although Sri Lanka is a very small country we have many unique ecosystems and it is important to have a ‘Red List of Ecosystems’ in Sri Lanka using the IUCN criteria. “Recently, IUCN came up with the Red Listing of ecosystems.
We should go for Red Listing of ecosystems. It is important because there are some ecosystems that are in danger. In species they say extinct. In ecosystems they say collapsed. Initiatives have to be taken to conserve rare, endemic species or point endemics occurring outside protected areas,” Prof. Wijesundara said. The Book has also identified 345 species of liverworts, seven species of hornworts and 574 species of mosses. Moreover, 139 species – including 51 species of green algae, 23 species of brown algae and 65 species of red algae – were identified and listed under the marine algae group. The list of freshwater algae includes 90 taxa of planktonic green algae, 50 taxa of cyanobacteria, 25 taxa of diatoms, 13 species of euglenophytes and 41 taxa of diano-flagellates.
Lichens and fungi
Under lichens 876 species in 60 families have been identified and listed. Under the Fungi Section two checklists of fungi in Sri Lanka were included. One of them provides 1,139 species of fungi associated with plants in Sri Lanka belonging to 422 genera and 183 families. The second checklist brings in 345 species of agaric flora belonging to 96 genera known in Sri Lanka. Under the Assessment of the Threat Status of the Freshwater Fishes of Sri Lanka up to 2019, the global IUCN Red List carried the threat status of 54 species present in Sri Lanka, including only 18 out of the 62 endemic species listed for Sri Lanka in 2019. Out of the 18 endemic species only eight has been listed as threatened species.
More than 20 species of endemic species of fish were not even recognised as valid species in the global Red List database. The threat status of 59 out of the 61 species were updated in the global Red List. The remaining two species were not updated due to taxonomic uncertainties. The freshwater fish checklist published in the National Red List (2012) was updated using all published information since 2012 on newly described species, changes in genus or species name based on 97 freshwater fish species, including 61 species, endemic to Sri Lanka were assessed and the most appropriate threat status was assigned to each species.
Thirty exotic species were not considered in this assessment. Fifty-three out of 97 assessed species were determined to be threatened during this assessment. 74 per cent nearly three quarters of the freshwater fish endemic to Sri Lanka were found to be threatened. Out of the 60-endemic species, 12-point endemic species were listed as Critically Endangered (CR), 24 range-restricted species were listed as Endangered (EN) while a further nine species were listed as Vulnerable (VU). In addition, five species were listed as Near Threatened (NT), two species as Data Deficient (DD), and the remaining species were listed as Least Concern (LC).
Water pollution in rivers
All the accessed endemic species were used to update the global Red List (except for two species whose taxonomic status is yet to be resolved) and can be accessed now from redlsit.org. Among the native species (36) were also assessed and out of these, eight species were listed as Threatened. Most of Sri Lanka’s freshwater fish are found outside protected areas and are thus affected directly by all the major drivers of biodiversity loss. The results of the assessment call for urgent and planned conservation actions, at least for the critically endangered endemic species.