Voices from the Rainforest: Gunwant Mahajan, Rainforest Trust Conservation Fellow
Rainforest Trust projects thrive thanks to the important conservation work of people on the ground. Our Voices from the Rainforest series brings you news from our projects in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific — from the perspectives of those working in and for the rainforests.
Discovering the Smithsonia viridiflora
Gunwant Mahajan works as a senior field coordinator with Rainforest Trust partner, Applied Environmental Research Foundation (AERF). He has conducted detailed plant surveys and identified populations of many endangered plant species in the proposed Prachitgad Community Reserve in India. Rainforest Trust and AERF are working to protect Prachitgad, an area north of the Western Ghats mountains.
In this blog, he writes about discovering the Smithisona viridiflora orchid on the reserve and its importance to the biodiversity of the reserve’s unique habitat.
Floral Pearl of Prachitgad Community Reserve
The Prachitgad Community Reserve protects key habitats for a variety of mammals and birds. The area is home to many endemic and threatened plant species, including the herbaceous flora, which have not been studied in the north Western Ghats. The AERF team has documented 118 herbs and counting.
Orchidaceae is a family of epiphytic and terrestrial herbs with special microhabitat requirements. They are a favourite of pollinators, too. So far, the team has recorded more than 10 species of this herb family within a comparatively small area, near the crest-line of the Western Ghats mountain range.
The most significant find of this year is an epiphytic orchid, Smithisona viridiflora, recorded in the post-monsoon season of 2018. Smithsonia viridiflora was previously known by various synonyms such as Gastrochilus dalzellianus (Santapau) Santapau & Kopadia, Sarcocholis dalzellianus Santapau and Aerides dalzelliana (Santapau) Garay. It is epiphytic on Lagerstroemia microcarpa, Ficus microcarpa, Memecylon umbellatum, Ficus racemosa and Oeal dioica. It is also seen on a rare, giant tree, Terameles nudiflora.
In the Prachitgad Community Reserve, Smithsonia viridiflora is found on Carissa congesta, an old species of shrub. It is recorded in the states of Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka and Kerala. In Maharashtra, it is recorded in the areas of Thane, Pune, Kolhapur, Sindhudurg and Ratnagiri. It is endemic to Western Ghats, a biodiversity hotspot, and found in evergreen forests. According to the IUCN Red List, it is Endangered.
The species is suffering from a decline in their natural habitat due to forest degradation and a decrease in the number of evergreen trees, its host species. We will continue to document more sites in the reserve that contain host trees during the post-monsoon season of 2019. We are excited to see this rare endemic orchid in the reserve, which reiterates the importance of conservation in this unique forest near the crestline of mountains.
A total of 319 plant species are recorded in the Prachitgad Community Reserve. Forty-eight of them are endemic to the Western Ghats, while 19 are listed on the IUCN Red List. This amount of plant diversity indicates the ecological significance of this reserve and its conservation importance in the North Western Ghats.
Header image: Mountains in the Prachitgad Reserve. Photo by AERF.