Travel Grant Series: Cycas spp field study in the Western Ghats, South India

By Vandana Krishnamurthy, Dept. of Botany – UH Manoa

This summer I returned to India to set the base for my doctoral field research which I intend to commence in the summer of 2010. The broad topic of my doctoral research is “Ethnobotany, trade, life history, and population dynamics of endemic Cycas species in the Western Ghats, a biodiversity hotspot of southern India”. The work that I achieved this summer included interacting with forest department officers to help find potential sites to visit, visiting these sites, and also visiting market sites that trade in plant parts of Cycas spp. I travelled over three states namely, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. During this time I was able find 4 different natural sites of Cycas spp. They were located in core areas of the forest, the hike to which was very challenging and exhilarating. Although I wasn’t able to locate as many sites as I would have wanted to, I have enough information to initiate my travel next year. I visited 3 different markets which was the most thrilling part of the field work. Since the plant is endangered and harvest is illegal, it was quite a task to get cues related to the economics following harvest as vendors would fear getting arrested. I often had to disguise myself as a customer to collect my data. I look forward to next year’s data collection which will be a challenge to work around.

In addition to field work, I delivered 3 presentations on the “Conservation of Cycas spp in Penisular India”. One was for the general public, and the other two presentations were for undergraduate college students in Bangalore and Mysore. Commercial harvest has reached such a critical stage that the end-users in the cities should be aware of its origin and threats to the survival of these species. Through these presentations I have also been able to write articles in local newspapers on the importance in conserving these species for the long-term. The East West Center Alumni Summer Travel Grant was very useful in helping me achieve my goals this summer.