What are Shola forest?
Shola forests are tropical Montane forests found in the valleys separated by rolling grasslands and only in the higher elevations. They occur only in the valleys where there is least reach of the fog and mist.
Why they are Unique?
In general, mountains are covered in grasslands and trees never grow on the mountain tops.Finding the Shola forests (tropical forest) at an altitudes above 2000 metres of sea-level is unique and curious.
Where it can be found?
They are found only in South India in the Southern Western Ghats high altitude mountains in the states Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Nowhere else in the world exists such a kind of forests.
Why they are important?
Due to high isolation and unique climatic conditions, the Shola forests are characterised by high endemism. The species of plants and animals found here are native to this region and such species cannot be found anywhere else in the world. For example - Nilgiri Tahr. Large animals like Tiger, Elephants, Leopard and Gaurs are also found to inhabit the grassland-shoal complex.
Limitations of Shola forest?
Shola tree species have one of the lowest regeneration rates. They do not get established very soon and are very sensitive to climatic change.Most Shola trees produce drupaceous fruits which makes it difficult to produce more number of seeds and there is less way to disperse them successfully.
What are the present threat to Shola Forest?
These forests and grasslands are being cleared for agriculture and for construction of hill stations.
Mining activities are increasing in the Western Ghats for various reasons like Bauxite, Gypsum, Granites and various other rocks and minerals. Acres of hill-tops and slopes which were once covered in grasslands and shola forests are now Just an area or tea plantation. Hydroelectric projects and dams are a great threat as it submerges thousands of acres of forests. Sholas are also shrinking due to the introduction of alien plant species and annual fire occurrences.For example - During 1840, tree species such as Acacia and Eucalyptus were introduced from Australia.
Why we need to preserve them?
The shola forests have high water retention capacity than any other soil. They retain water from Monsoon and retained water is then slowly released in the year’s course and they form small streams. They are the source of water in rivers live Cauvery, Thamirabarani, Vaiga. They are the reason for moderate climates for several cities along their foothills. For example – Coimbatore.
They are part of world’s Biodiversity Hotspot.
What are/were the measures taken to preserve the Shola Forest?
Under the Hill Area Development Programme (since the mid-1980s), seedlings have been planted in degraded patches and protected with chain-link fences to restore the forests.
In order to curb forest cutting, the forest department had started supplying LPG to villagers who lived near the Sholas as they depended upon the forests for their fuel wood needs.
Presently, the Tamil Nadu forest department is also focusses on eradicating wattle and providing fencing.
Earlier report by Gadget commission and by Kasturiranjan has sought to declare western ghat as Eco-sensitive zone (that includes Sholas Forest)