Sep 23

A new IUCN report has revealed that rapid economic development in the Western Ghats is leading to freshwater species being sacrificed as ‘collateral damage’.

River Kunthi, Western Ghats

River Kunthi, Western Ghats

A number of threats, including water pollution, overharvesting and invasive species, have led to 16% of freshwater species in the Western Ghats being classified as threatened on the IUCN Red List. Freshwater fish have been identified as the most threatened group, with over a third at risk of extinction.

The Western Ghats have been identified as a global biodiversity hotspot, containing more than 30% of India’s mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian and fish species despite covering less than 6% of the country’s land area. There are 118 endemic fish species, including the iconic Denison barb (Puntius denisonii), which is currently listed as Endangered due to its indiscriminate collection for the ornamental fish trade.

Denison barb image

Denison barb (Puntius denisonii)

The two-year assessment by the IUCN has shown that the pace of growth of the Indian economy is not in tune with conservation needs, and that in many cases environmental requirements are not considered during developmental planning processes. There is also little awareness of the ecosystem services the freshwater ecosystems provide.

Many people, particularly the poor, rely on freshwater species for their livelihoods, with more than half of India’s fish species and 18% of its mollusc species being used for food.

Rajeev Raghavan of the Conservation Research Group (CRG) at St. Albert’s College says, “If we continue to degrade our freshwater systems and overharvest our resources, we will not only lose biodiversity but also the many valuable services that nature provides us for free.”

Waterfall in Maharastra, Western Ghats

Waterfall in Maharastra, Western Ghats

It is hoped that the report, which assessed the global conservation status and distributions of 1,146 freshwater fishes, molluscs, odonates and aquatic plants, will help politicians and other decision-making personnel to make informed conservation decisions in the future.

Read the full IUCN report – The Status and Distribution of Freshwater Biodiversity in the Western Ghats, India

Find out more about the Western Ghats eco-region on ARKive.

Becky Moran, ARKive Species Text Author