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Mohamed bin Zayed Species project number 172515103

Development of a conservation plan for the Malabar River lily (Crinum malabaricum)

Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation (Project No. 172515103) - Malabar River Lily - Awarded $7,000 on July 20, 2017

The Malabar river-lily (Crinum malabaricum) was described new to science in 2012 (Lekhak and Yadav 2012) and is endemic to four streams in Kasaragod and Kannur Districts in northern Kerala, south-western India. In 2016 it was assessed as critically endangered using the IUCN criteria; however this study has obtained and collected new information which shows that whilst still vulnerable, populations are fairly secure. This project was designed to describe and document the current population of Crinum malabaricum, the habitat on which it depends and any plausible threats to the known populations, to serve as a basis for monitoring and for any measures to protect the population; hold discussions with local people to assess their current relationship with C. malabaricum and the habitat on which it depends, as well as ways in which to enable this relationship to continue whilst resolving current pressures on the population and report on the work with recommendations for conservation of C. malabaricum.

Once new information on the distribution and status of C. malabaricum had been made available, the project aims were modified because it was clear that the most important action for conservation of C. malabaricum was to obtain baseline data from which analysis of population trends could be carried out. During the fieldwork for this project, we were lucky enough to be able to work with students from the second year botany course at the Government College, Kasaragod to collect such a baseline for the population at the type locality. The protocol employed was designed to measure both the overall trend in the population and to assess reproductive capacity. Two types of data were collected, a sketch map of main features of the stream and adjacent habitat, as well as indicating areas where stands of C. malabaricum exceeded 80% in the channel, together with quantitative data on the reproductive capacity of different stands of C. malabaricum.

The results of this survey have shown that the global population is in the region of 25,500 individuals, all of which occur within 20 km of the coast in four seasonal streams at around 100 m a.s.l. The reaches of the streams which support C. malabaricum are fairly level or gently sloping, 2-5 m wide and <1 m deep, with a gravel bed and fairly fast flow where C. malabaricum occurs, all arise on the laterite and C. malabaricum only occurs where the streams flow over the laterite. All the streams have been extensively modified by man, mostly with a 2-3 m high wall of laterite blocks along one or both margins, other significant modifications are mainly associated with road crossings. C. malabaricum is a major ecosystem architect, providing shelter for fish and invertebrate communities, dramatically modifying the hydrology of the streams and almost certainly playing an important role in nutrient cycling.

There are no obvious threats to the populations of C. malabaricum and the monitoring baseline established at Periya should, if extended to cover the other populations, enable measurement of population trends and a response should a decline become apparent. The Red List Assessment for C. malabaricum needs to be revised, probably to Vulnerable D2, based on the small number of populations. C. malabaricum is only one of a large number of wetland-dependent plants species which are endemic to south-western India and particularly the Western Ghats. Most of the endemic wetland-dependent plant species occur in seasonal pools in laterite grassland and are threatened by habitat loss and degradation.

There is an urgent need for a major initiative to stimulate and support conservation of wetland plants throughout the Western Ghats, to ensure conservation of these wetland-dependent plant species.

Project document