Vertebrate fauna of the Chambal River Basin, with emphasis on the National Chambal Sanctuary, India
Tarun Nair 1 & Y. Chaitanya Krishna 2
1 Gharial Conservation Alliance, Centre for Herpetology - Madras Crocodile Bank Trust, P.O. Box 4, Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu 603104, India
1,2 Post-graduate Program in Wildlife Biology and Conservation, Wildlife Conservation Society - India Program, National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bengaluru, Karnataka 560065, India; and Centre for Wildlife Studies, Bengaluru, Karnataka 560070, India
2 Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Malleshwaram, Bengaluru, Karnataka 560012, India
2 Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey 08544, USA
1 firstname.lastname@example.org (corresponding author), 2 email@example.com
Biodiversity inventories or checklists serve as repositories of baseline information on species occurrences, biogeography and their conservation status (Chandra & Gajbe 2005). They are essential tools for developing our knowledge and understanding of biodiversity, and often the first step to undertake effective conservation action. This information is also fundamental to assess changes in species composition and distribution (Abraham et al. 2011) in the face of perturbations that may be anthropogenic (dams, mining, etc.) or natural (earthquakes, volcanoes, etc.).
Lying between 24055′–26”50′N & 75034′–79018′E (Fig. 1), the National Chambal Sanctuary (hereafter, NCS), was established between 1978 and 1983 by the states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh to conserve the Gharial and the unique Chambal ecosystem. It covers nearly 1800km2 across the three states, to form the first and only tri-state protected area in India. Despite being one of the last remnant rivers in the greater Gangetic Drainage Basin to have retained significant conservation values (Hussain & Badola 2001), the Chambal River faces severe extractive and intrusive pressures for resources. The NCS is an Important Bird Area - Site Code IN-UP-11 and IN-RJ-11 (Islam & Rahmani 2004). A comprehensive database of species occurring in this landscape does not exist. Currently, this information is scattered throughout literature (Dubey & Mehra 1959; Sale 1982; Sharma et al. 1995; Chandra & Gajbe 2005; Saksena 2007; Sharma & Choudhary 2007; Srivastava 2007; Tigerwatch 2008, 2009; Vyas et al. in prep.), difficult to procure and inaccessible to the general public or administration.
The aim of this paper is to compile information from several sources including peer-reviewed publications, reports and our field observations, in order to highlight the vertebrate faunal diversity (fishes, reptiles, birds and mammals), and provide a baseline, reference checklist for the region. We also discuss threats to the regionÕs biodiversity, particularly in NCS.
Materials and Methods
The Chambal Basin (22027ÕN–73020ÕE & 27020ÕN–79015ÕE) is a rain-fed catchment and drains a total area of 143, 219km2 and is characterised by an undulating floodplain, gullies, forests, ravines, and a mosaic of land-use types (Hussain & Badola 2001; Gopal & Srivastava 2008). It is bound on the south, east and west by the Vindhyan mountain range and on the north-west by the Aravallis. The 960km long Chambal River originates in the northern slopes of the Vindhyan escarpment and joins the Yamuna River near Bareh in Uttar Pradesh. The tributaries of the Chambal include Shipra, Choti Kalisindh, Sivanna, Retam, Ansar, Kali Sindh, Banas, Parbati, Seep, Kuwari, Kuno, Alnia, Mej, Chakan, Parwati, Chamla, Gambhir, Lakhunder, Khan, Bangeri, Kedel and Teelar (Jain et al. 2007; Gopal & Srivastava 2008). The NCS consists of a ~600km long arc of the Chambal River. Over this arc, two stretches of the Chambal are protected as the National Chambal Sanctuary - the upper sector, extending from Jawahar Sagar Dam to Kota Barrage, and the lower sector, extending from Keshoraipatan in Rajasthan to the Chambal-Yamuna confluence in Uttar Pradesh.
The NCS lies within the semi-arid zone of north-western India at the border of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh States (Hussain 1999). Ambient air temperatures range from 2–49 0C (Tarun Nair 2009–2010 pers. obs.) with a mean annual precipitation of 590mm, the bulk of which is received during the south-west monsoon (Hussain 1999, 2009). From the source down to its confluence with the Yamuna, the Chambal has a fall of about 732m. The Chambal averages 400m in width while depth ranges from 1–26 m (Hussain 1991).
The vegetation is classified as ravine and thorn forest (Champion & Seth 1968). Evergreen riparian vegetation is completely absent, with only sparse ground-cover along the severely eroded river banks and adjacent ravine lands (Hussain 1999, 2009). The region was also subject to intentional aerial seeding of Prosopis juliflora in the 1980s, as a ravine reclamation measure (Prasad 1988), and as a consequence P. juliflora is widespread in the region.
Much of the basin has been influenced by a long history of human occupation (Kaul 1962). Anthropogenic influences are chiefly in the form of sand-mining; bank-side cultivation; domestic activities like bathing, washing and water collection; fishing; poaching; livestock herding; grass-soaking; river crossing and temple fairs. The Chambal River also suffers severe hydrological modifications from water impoundment and extraction.
Data compilation and collection
Keywords such as Chambal, checklist, inventory, biodiversity, mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, fauna and occurrence were used in several variations and combinations in Google, Google Scholar, PubMed and Science Direct. The references within the resulting documents were also sourced and reviewed. Similarly, five of the most widely recognised databases of published literature on Indian biodiversity, namely, Indian Forester, Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society, ZoosÕ Print Journal, Conservation Assessment and Management Plan (C.A.M.P.) reports and Journal of Threatened Taxa, were also reviewed for relevant information. Preliminary checklists of fishes, reptiles, birds and mammals were prepared based on a review of published literature (Dubey & Mehra 1959; Sharma et al. 1995; Chauhan & Narain 2001; Sivakumar 2002; Sharma 2003; Khudsar 2004; Sundar 2004; Vyas 2004; Vyas & Singh 2004; Chandra & Gajbe 2005; Nair 2009), survey reports (Tigerwatch 2008, 2009; Vyas et al. in prep.), status reports and taxonomic assessments (Sale 1982; Molur & Walker 1998a,b; Rao 1988; Islam & Rahmani 2002; Molur et al. 2002; Islam & Rahmani 2004; Molur et al. 2005; Schtti & Schmitz 2006; Saksena 2007; Sharma & Choudhary 2007; Srivastava 2007; Choudhury et al. 2008; Sanderson et al. 2008; Driscoll & Nowell 2009; Bhm & Richman 2010; Das et al. 2010; Murphy & Lobo 2010; Tenzin 2010; Vishwanath 2010a,b; Vidthayanon et al. 2011; BirdLife International 2012a,b).
Opportunistic field observations were made during field surveys in March–April 2006, February 2008, October 2009 and from December 2009 to May 2010, while collecting information on human-crocodile conflict, gharial habitat-use and population estimation.
We validated species checklists based on available ecological knowledge and distributional records for each species. For instance, Sale (1982) reports the presence of Varanus salvator (Common Water Monitor) in the NCS. However, in India, V. salvator is reported to be restricted to the eastern and northeastern states of mainland India (Whitaker & Whitaker 1980; Molur & Walker 1998b; Bennett et al. 2010), and is hence omitted from our checklist.
The taxonomic classification, nomenclature and sequence followed Eschmeyer (2012) and Eschmeyer & Fong (2012) for fishes; Turtle Taxonomy Working Group [van Dijk, P.P., J.B. Iverson, H.B. Shaffer, R. Bour & A.G.J. Rhodin] (2011) for turtles and tortoises; ITIS (2012) for other reptiles; BirdLife International (2012) for birds; and Wilson & Reeder (2005) for mammals.
Results and Discussion
Faunal diversity: We recorded 147 fish species comprising 32 families (Table 2), 56 reptile species comprising 19 families (Table 3), 308 bird species comprising 64 families (Table 4) and 60 mammal species comprising 27 families (Table 5) from this region, based on available literature and our field observations. This includes six Critically Endangered, 12 Endangered and 18 Vulnerable species (see Table 1), as categorised by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (IUCN 2011).
The NCS is among the most important and significant habitats where several globally threatened fauna still survive. Apart from being a strong candidate for World Heritage and Ramsar Convention listings, the NCS is also subject to international treaties like the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (Bonn Convention), which lists both flagship species of the NCS - the Gharial Gavialis gangeticus and Gangetic River Dolphins Platanista gangetica. It contains the most viable breeding populations of the Critically Endangered Gharial and Red-crowned Roofed Turtle Batagur kachuga. It is also among the most important strongholds of the Deccan Mahaseer Tor khudree, Putitor Mahaseer Tor putitora, Narrow-headed Softshell Turtle Chitra indica, Three-striped Roofed Turtle Batagur dhongoka, Indian Skimmer Rynchops albicollis, Black-bellied Tern Sterna acuticauda, Sarus Crane Grus antigone and Gangetic River Dolphin Platanista gangetica. The NCS functions as a vital source and nursery for fish fry and fingerlings, contributing significantly to downstream fisheries in the Gangetic river system (Sivakumar & Choudhury 2008). It is an Important Bird Area particularly for the Oriental White-backed Vulture Gyps bengalensis, Long-billed Vulture Gyps indicus, PallasÕs Fish-Eagle Haliaeetus leucoryphus and Greater Spotted Eagle Aquila clanga among others (Islam & Rahmani 2004). The NCS also serves as among the best over-wintering sites for migratory birds. In addition, this river sanctuary also forms a vital corridor and link for the movement and dispersal of Tigers Panthera tigris from the source population of Ranthambore Tiger Reserve to the protected areas of Kuno-Palpur, Madhav National Park and Darrah-Mukundra (Reddy et al. 2012; Rakesh Vyas February 2008 pers. comm.).
Threats: The Chambal faces severe extractive and intrusive pressures in the form of water impoundment and abstraction, sand- and stone-mining, fishing, poaching, riparian agriculture, livestock grazing, firewood collection, miscellaneous domestic activities, and infrastructural development (Hussain 2009; Nair 2010; Katdare et al. 2011; MoEF 2011; Tarun Nair 2006, 2008, 2009–2013 pers. obs.).
Seven major, 12 medium and 134 minor irrigation projects operating in the Chambal River Basin, have greatly reduced river flow (Hussain & Badola 2001). Misleading environment impact assessments have permitted recently commissioned water abstraction projects to operate in the NCS by suppressing information on speciesÕ occurrences and falsely stating ŅAs there is no significant flora and fauna in or around Chambal River, there should also not be any ecological impacts from the increase in abstractionÓ (RUSDIP 2008, page 44). Up- and downstream effects of dams are well-known, stemming from inundation, flow manipulation, and fragmentation. Dams obstruct the dispersal and migration of organisms, and these and other effects have been directly linked to loss of populations and entire species of freshwater fish (Nilsson et al. 2005). Low-flows in the Chambal River result in discontinuity between deep pools in the river, due to which species become more vulnerable to netting and dynamiting (Dubey & Mehra 1959; Katdare et al. 2011). Additionally, reduction in the number of inaccessible islands results in increased destruction of nests of Gharials, turtles and ground-nesting birds like skimmers and Black-bellied Terns (Sundar 2004; Nair 2010). Altered flow regimes, and insufficient flooding disrupts siltation rates and sand deposition in the river channel. As Moll (1997) notes, upriver dams exacerbate the problem by preventing replacement sand from coming downriver while increasing erosion by periodic and unseasonable elevation of water levels.
Sand-mining destroys crucial breeding areas and is one of the most serious threats to the survival of species that lay their eggs on sand deposits. Stone-mining, common in the upper sections of the river, causes considerable disturbances to wildlife, destroys key breeding habitats like otter-holts and provides easy access to ammunition for dynamite fishing (Katdare et al. 2011).
Poaching is another issue that continues unchecked (Murthy 2004; Tarun Nair 2009–2013 pers. obs.) due to inadequate allocation of field personnel to patrol the sanctuary. Illegal fishing and turtle poaching are rampant, using a variety of methods (gill net, baited hook-line, dynamite) and these also claim other species like Gharials, Mugger, river dolphins, otters and several birds (Dubey & Mehra 1959; Vyas 2004; Nair 2010; Taigor & Rao 2010; Katdare et al. 2011). Gill nets are particularly responsible for entangling and drowning juvenile Gharials, thereby impacting survival and recruitment of smaller size-classes.
Riparian agriculture and associated activities like constant human disturbance from irrigational pump operation and crop protection, and risks of water pollution from agro-chemical use and oil leaks also contribute substantially to habitat loss, degradation and pollution (Katdare et al. 2011).
In the future, river flows would be further impacted by the 52 irrigation projects that are under construction and 376 projects that have been planned in the basin (Department of Water Resources, Rajasthan). Additionally, there are proposals to divert the two most important tributaries of the Chambal - the Parbati and Kalisindh rivers (NWDA). Inspite of water being the most critical resource in the NCS, the environmental impact assessment for this project does not account for changes in the hydrological regime due to the diversion of water (NWDA). There have also been calls to denotify the sanctuary itself in order to facilitate sand-mining (The Hindu 2006a, b).
Our effort is intended at providing a peer-reviewed and open-access compilation of vertebrate fauna of the Chambal River Basin, which highlights the regionÕs ecological significance. We believe that this checklist will serve as a baseline for assessing changes in species status, distributions and occurrences in the face of threats; inform protected area managers, conservationists and environment impact assessors; and serve as a platform to initiate participatory biodiversity monitoring initiatives.
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