Ecological restoration in a changing world: Insights from a natural forest-grassland matrix in the Western Ghats

Ecological restoration in a changing world: Insights from a natural forest-grassland matrix in the Western Ghats

Presented by Bob Stewart, Tanya Balcar, Joachim Schmerbeck, Siddharth Krishnan, Suprabha Seshan, Arundhati Das and Milind Bunyan

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Tropical montane forests and grasslands co-occur in a natural matrix in the Western Ghats. Locally known as the Shola-grassland, this ecosystem is one of the ‘hotter spots’ of diversity in the Western Ghats biodiversity hotspot. Large extents of this habitat have, however, been modified for commercial and timber plantations of non-native species over the last two centuries. For decades people have strived to restore the Shola-grasslands to its ‘original’ state.

In this workshop we seek to address the issue of restoration with a short description of our understanding of what is ‘natural’ in this habitat. We explore the role of local community, especially pastoralists, in shaping this habitat and describe what we think is possible, and what is not, for restoration. We also highlight the most important question of how this can be achieved with science and conservation implementation working together. We invite workshop participants to discuss these issues.

This workshop is topical in dealing with a conservation challenge we are currently faced with (i.e. large-scale landscape modification). This workshop is planned as an interactive session and we will explore the concepts of restoring to the future, role of planted forests (ex-plantations), the merits of the ‘Alien vs Native’ approach, and intend to challenge commonly held notions about the threats faced by Shola forests.

Workshop outline (subject to minor changes):

Ecological and historical perspectives of restoration

Conceptual overview of the Shola-grassland ecosystem from the ice-ages to the present (Robert Stewart and Tanya Balcar)

Sociological environmental history of colonial and postcolonial landscape policy on the Nilgiri plateau (Siddhartha Krishnan)

— Tea break —

The landscape perspective

Where do forests and grasslands occur: A GIS and landscape-based approach (Arundhati Das & Milind Bunyan)

— Lunch break —

Restoration insights

Seedlings, nurseries, planting and post-planting care experience from last 25 years of Shola restoration (Robert Stewart and Tanya Balcar)

The role of exotic plantations providing a nurse effect to native shola trees: results of studies in the Palni Hills (Joachim Schmerbeck)

Restoration opportunities and challenges

Ex-situ conservation, the possibilities of re-introduction and the assisted migration of plants to novel ecosystems (Suprabha Seshan – tentative) .

Current conservation challenges: the threat of unscientific restoration (Robert Stewart and Tanya Balcar)

Brief write ups and web links for all the resource persons:

Tanya Balcar

Tanya was born in England and has made Kodaikanal her home for the last thirty years with Bob Stewart. They are the co-founders of the Vattakanal Conservation Trust (VCT), an NGO based in the Tamilnadu. VCT’s goal is to promote the conservation of the native plants of the South Western Ghats and the Nilgiris and their habitats by raising plant nurseries, establishing conservation gardens and restoring habitats. At VCT, Tanya is primarily involved with reaching out to the local population and the Forest Department in addition to maintaining all scientific data. Her interests lie in fascinating the flora and fauna of the area.


Milind Bunyan

Milind’s doctoral dissertation studied edge-effects in the shola-grassland landscape. He is currently working as a postdoctoral scholar at the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, Bangalore on assessing climate-induced vulnerability in the semi-arid portions of the Bhavani basin in Tamilnadu and improving the adaptation strategies of communities living in the region. His expertise and interests lie in the application of GIS and remote sensing tools in improving our understanding of species and landscapes, and enhancing the effectiveness of conservation strategies.


Arundhati Das

Arundhati is a doctoral student at the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, Bangalore. Her doctoral dissertation investigates the community ecology of shola forests with specific focus on the Upper Nilgiris landscape. Her expertise and interests lie in landscape ecology, community ecology, spatial ecology and conservation planning.


Siddhartha Krishnan

Siddhartha is a Fellow at the Ashoka Trust for REsearch in Ecology and the Environment, Bangalore. He is currently writing up his four year field and archival research on pastoral land and life transformation in the Nilgiris (1900 – 2010). His research interests are in environmental sociology and environmental history and on developing methodologies that combine field and archival research


Joachim Schmerbeck

Joachim is an Associate Professor at the Department of Natural Resources in TERI University. His research work focuses on the interaction of anthropocentric management systems with forest ecosystems. Largely, this explores vegetation dynamics in relationship to human interference, and how this influences the provision of a wide range of ecosystem services. His main interests lies here in the use and impact of forest fires. His PhD thesis is on the impact of forest use on a dry forest ecosystem in Tamil Nadu. Since then, he has worked at different universities in Germany and with Indian and German development organisations. Joachim has been teaching at TERI University since 2009.


Suprabha Seshan

Suprabha Seshan is an ecosystem gardener who works with the Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary. She has been involved with in-situ restoration of grasslands in the Nilgiris and has been involved with the assisted migration and ex-situ conservation of threatened and endangered plants in these areas. In addition to these she is actively involved in educational and vocational training programmes at GBS.


Bob Stewart

Bob is the co-founder of the VCT and has made Kodaikanal his home for the last 30 years. As with Tanya Balcar, his interests lie in the flora of the Western Ghats along with insects, birds and amphibians. Bob is a keen macro photographer of plants, and does all of the writing VCT despite an aversion to computers.


Capacity: 40 Students

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Organizing Committee

Sister Conferences

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