The Nilgiris Biosphere is one of the most rich vibrant ecosystems in the world, with hundreds of animals and over 3,300 flowering plant species, out of which 132 are endemic to this region. The mountains are also subject to extensive development, increased human habitation and loss of native biodiversity. Our founder, Vasanth initially wanted to understand the forests, grasslands and learn about the species, community compositions, preferences, site-specific variations where native species still remained. All with the aim of trying to increase space for them in the landscape. Studying this intricately interlinked system of forests and grasslands over several years has led Vasanth to conduct in depth research to find solutions at the ground level and every level above to facilitate effective change.
Native Tussock Grass Preservation
Native Tussock Grasses are endangered in the Nilgiris, as over time they have stopped producing viable seeds. At the UE nursery, we have developed a sustainable method to preserve these grasses via propagation. After considerable propagation efforts, we now grow the species from the seeds in our nursery. The resulting grasses are better equipped to produce seeds and to tackle the various pressures on their species as well as climate change. They continue to produce viable seeds and also grow into larger clumps and bags. Growing the grass or base layer is the first step of grassland restoration, so our focus is to grow them in large numbers.
Native Plant Protection and Nursing
We are constantly on the lookout to increase coverage areas of native plants and trees. We use test plots to assess the level of resistance to invasive species before planting native varieties in larger plots. We also explore new techniques of planting that allow us to plant in larger patches. The Rhododendron arboretum tree is one example of a native species for which we are trying to find the right soil mixtures. They require natural micro-organism associations so that seeds can germinate profusely. This is similar to Rhodomyrtus tomentosa (a fruiting shrub). Our goals with these efforts are to increase the numbers of native species and improve biodiversity in any given land.
The Birth of Metaphor Island
As our ongoing research examined changes at the micro level of restoration and the larger picture of global environmental crises, it became apparent that local action alone could not protect the ecology of the Nilgiri biosphere. A global change would be needed for any sustainable impact, even on the Nilgiri landscape. Anyone who is interested in conservation and the future of life on earth will agree that there is an obvious gap in our understanding of plant ecology, reflected in our lifestyles, daily decisions and policies. This gap needs to be bridged for us to live in better harmony with nature. The Nilgiris have gone through many changes and disruptions to natural landscapes just as in many regions around the world. The landscape is an exemplar for the kind of 'unsustainable' development we see everywhere today. However, the way the ecologies here respond carry important messages for humankind.
How can Visual Analytics help us foster the change the world needs?
As part of our ongoing research, we are examining current methods of representing and transferring information. Our world today is filled with opinions, ideologies and increasingly hard hitting facts. Yet, despite the overwhelming evidence, constructive action is often missing or misguided. As a response, we are exploring visual analytics as a new, more powerful way to represent concepts. Visually representing provides a more seminal, direct impact and understanding of ground realities. Beyond this, bringing in a layer of analysis helps to make findings based on visual representations, such as with spatial characteristics and by breaking down complexities. The interplay of data visualisation and visual analytics could be the missing link to inspiring action. Vasanth has been working on a set of solutions that will explore these methods. This research will also include a second book, which goes into the fundamentals of how we observe our environment and nature.