Bodhinagala: A Model for Forest Patch Conservation

Last week, I took a short day trip to the charming little forest patch, the Bodhinagala Forest Reserve. Also home to a monastery, there is an abundance of people around it and plenty of edge habitat. I realized just how sub-urban it is only when a motorcycle hurriedly drove past while I was photographing a pair of Sri Lankan Grey Hornbill (Ocyceros gingalensis), who did not seem to bat an eyelid at the noisy diminutive vehicle revving beneath them.

Despite this, I do feel that there is a certain level of respect that is assured as a result of the community the resident monastery that lies just on its boundaries. Additionally, the edge habitat provides an excellent ratio of forest to urban for many different edge-adapted species to thrive. As we walked along the forest path we were able to make a few interesting finds, including two species of forest damselflies (Platystictidae), a pair of Sri Lankan Grey Hornbills, a Dark-fronted Babbler (Rhopocichla atriceps) and a Black-naped Monarch (Hypothymis azurea). Only a few meters away from the monastery, up on the bark of a tall tree, we spied a beautiful specimen of the endemic Acavus haemastoma heamastoma, one of three subspecies of a species of land snail declared nationally threatened due to forest fragmentation and habitat loss. Ratnadvipia was another endemic snail species that we were able to spot by the edge of small forest path close to the monastery.  In one of the monastery houses, we made some fascinating discoveries of a Satiella snail species and a hoard of Sri Lanka Rock Frogs (Nannophrys ceylonensis) and their tadpoles.

The Nannophrys are an especially intriguing species. They are small frogs that flatten themselves against the ground and are able camouflage themselves on rock and muddy surfaces. Their tadpoles are semi-terrestrial, and were writhing with life on the large wet rock surfaces in the forest. Their camouflage capabilities are so strong, that I nearly trod on them despite my unhampered eyesight. The frogs had a knack of magically disappearing in front of my eyes, only to appear once more as they frantically jumped out of the way. Needless to say, they were delightful companions and kept us on our toes. Unfortunately, these species are not-so-magically disappearing permanently. Sri Lanka Rock frogs are considered vulnerable by the IUCN, and are experiencing a population decline due to contamination of the water bodies they inhabit by agrochemicals used in the nearby paddy fields and rubber plantations. These work very fast on frogs as their skin is permeable and allows the chemicals into their body quickly.

The most important thing to remember about Bodhinagala is that it is home to both endemic species and relict species, which are invaluable contributions to both Sri Lankan and global biodiversity repositories. The Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill and Dark Forest damsel (Platysticta apicalis) are endemic species, while the Satiella sp., and N. ceylonensis. are relict species.

In biology, relicts refer to species or populations that are the remnants of what once was a much larger population. These populations are small in size, experiencing a decline and restricted to tiny geographic areas. As these species have existed for a long time, they can be used to map the phylogenies of related species, and ascertain the whereabouts of other closely related species. This can bolster conservation efforts by helping scientists understand what pushed these species to their current state in the first place and identify the what means should be undertaken to preserve and increase their numbers.

Isolated forest patches such as Bodhinagala are a vital part of any conservation effort. They present experiences and opportunities that are yet to be explored, and must be conserved. Many of the floral and faunal species here have been sparsely studied, and very little is known of their whereabouts. Their biological significance is yet to be understood and quantified and we must make an effort to protect and conserve them before they are lost.

-Shanelle Wikramanayake 

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