Scientists at the Agharkar Research Institute (ARI) in Pune have discovered a unique low-altitude basalt plateau in the Western Ghats. They feel this is a significant discovery that could provide insight into how plant species worldwide adapt to climate change.
Scientists who have spent decades studying plateau formations and plant species in the Western Ghats were unaware of the existence of the low-altitude plateau, an isolated flat-topped steep hill found in Manjare village in the Thane district.
Western Ghats is one of India’s four global biodiversity hotspots. Prior to this discovery, there were three recognised plateau types in the Western Ghats: high altitude laterite plateaus, low altitude laterite plateaus, and high-altitude basalt plateaus, according to Dr. Mandar Datar, the principal author of the study recently published in Springer Nature.
“Recently, we discovered a fourth kind, the low-altitude basalt plateau…”
On the low-altitude plateau, Dr. Datar and his team discovered 76 species of plants belonging to 24 different families, some of which are unique to this plateau while others are found on all four plateaus. Dr. Datar remarked, “This is a one-of-a-kind model for studying how species interact under various environmental situations.”
The Western Ghats are dominated by plateaus, which are notable due to the prevalence of endemic species. According to Dr. Datar, the survival of plants in these open, predominantly desert ecosystems is a “essential reservoir of information” regarding how vegetation may live in high-temperature settings, which are projected to deteriorate as climate change proceeds.
The low-altitude plateau at Manjare, according to scientists, offers a unique model that may be used to examine the survival of plants under changing climatic conditions. Given that climate change continues to threaten species, including plants, as global average temperatures rise, this is critical.
“Only four months of the year, during the monsoon, are conducive to plant growth. Consequently, the plants that thrive here have only a four-month life cycle. After the monsoons, there is a severe water shortage here, and all of the vegetation dies. The plants survive in one of two ways: either by seeding just before the conclusion of the monsoon season, or by storing underground nutrients as bulbs. These plants continue to thrive in an exceedingly harsh environment, with summertime soil temperatures reaching 60 degrees Celsius,” he explained.
The ARI team is also attempting to determine whether genetics have a role in the survival of plants in hazardous situations. Dr. Datar stated that if there is a gene that genuinely helps these plants, scientists can harness it for crop survival. “This is why knowledge about these plateaus and plants is essential,” he continued.