62 plant species unveiled in Western Ghats: surviving severe water crisis

Indian scientists have recently discovered a remarkable collection of 62 plant species in the Western Ghats that possess an exceptional ability to withstand severe water scarcity.

Classified as desiccation tolerant (DT) vascular species, these plants can withstand drought and wait for water resources to replenish, even after losing up to 95 percent of their internal water content. Scientists believe that these plants go into a state of hibernation during water stress and revive once water becomes available again.

The study published in the Nordic Journal of Botany, a discovery by researchers at the Agarkar Research Institute (ARI) in Pune, sheds light on the unique survival mechanisms of these plants in harsh, arid environments where most other species struggle to prosper.

The ARI, an autonomous institute under the Central Department of Science and Technology, has identified 16 indigenous species among the 62 DT plants, 12 of them unique to the outer regions of the Western Ghats. In particular, previous research had already revealed nine desiccation-tolerant vascular plants in the country.

These DT plant species have great potential for agricultural practices in drought-prone and water-scarce areas. The Western Ghats, a mountain range along the west coast of India, is known for its rich biodiversity and ranks eighth globally in this regard.

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The region serves as a biodiversity hotspot, harboring numerous rare plant and animal species found nowhere else in the world. Given the heavy rainfall experienced in the Western Ghats, the discovery of DT plants in the area is considered a remarkable development. The scientists note that these plants grow predominantly on rocky outcrops in tropical regions.

Although relatively little research has been done on DT plants in India, the study of these species in the Western Ghats presents a crucial opportunity. Rocky outcrops, common in the region, serve as important habitats for DT plants, and the findings of this study may provide valuable information on the biodiversity and ecology of the Western Ghats.

Furthermore, understanding the mechanisms by which DT plants tolerate dehydration could pave the way for developing drought-resistant crops that require less water.

Who discovered these plants?

A team of researchers from the Agharkar Research Institute (ARI) Pune made a groundbreaking discovery of 62 plant species with Desiccation Tolerant (DT) properties in the Western Ghats. Among these species, 16 are native to India and 12 are found exclusively on outcrops of the Western Ghats.

Led by Dr. Mandar Datar, the team made seasonal field observations and used relative water content estimation protocols to analyze the DT characteristics of outcrop species. The study revealed nine new DT plant genera, marking significant contributions to the global understanding of these species. In particular, the presence of Tripogon capillatus, an epiphytic DT angiosperm, was a record for the first time.

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The study revealed that in addition to rock outcrops, tree trunks in partially shaded forests play a vital role as habitats for DT species. These finds provide valuable information on the biodiversity and ecology of the Western Ghats, according to the Ministry of Science and Technology.

Furthermore, understanding the mechanisms by which DT plants resist dehydration has the potential to develop crops that are more resistant to drought and require less water. This breakthrough may pave the way for the cultivation of drought-resistant crops, contributing to sustainable agriculture in water-scarce regions.

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