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Mapping the distribution and extent of India's semi-arid open natural ecosystems
  • M D Madhusudan,
  • Abi Vanak
M D Madhusudan
Independent Researcher
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Abi Vanak
Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment

Corresponding Author:avanak@atree.org

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Open Natural Ecosystems (ONEs), consisting of a range of non-forested habitats, are under threat worldwide. These ecosystems range from deserts to savanna grasslands, and host amongst the highest densities and diversity of large mammalian fauna. In addition, this ecosystem supports the lives and livelihoods of millions of pastoralists and their livestock. Yet, ONEs are highly threatened, mainly due to conversion for other land uses. Here, we focus on ONEs in India, where due to historical reasons, this ecosystem has been classified as wastelands. To improve the prospects of recognition of the value of ONEs, we generated a country-wide high-resolution (30m) map of ONEs in the arid and semi-arid regions of India. We find that ONEs cover approximately 300,000 km² (10%) of India’s land surface, with the largest extent in states such as Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat. The largest patches (>10,000 km²) occur in the arid parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat. We find that <5% of ONEs are covered under the existing protected area network of India. We hope that this open data source is used by policy makers and planners to exclude these habitats when considering location of renewable energy projects, tree planting projects for carbon sequestration, and other development projects that negatively impact ONEs. We encourage further refinement of the map taking into account constituent vegetation and floristic characteristics for a more ecologically robust mapping of India’s open natural ecosystems.