(GAMBLE)-A CRITICALLY ENDANGERED
AND ENDEMIC TREE FROM KERALA, INDIA- THREATS,
CONSERVATION AND PREDICTION OF POTENTIAL AREAS; WITH
SPECIAL EMPHASIS ON Myristica swamps AS A PRIME HABITAT
, Joyce Jose*
and P. Vijayakumaran Nair
Dept of Zoology, St. Thomas College, Thrissur, Kerala
South Western Ghats, India. It has been associated with Myristica swamps of Western Ghats,
a naturally fragmented, restricted endemic ecosystem with anthropogenic threats to its
existence. Randomly selected 17swamps were sampled. IVI and response to selected abiotic
parameters were calculated and
girth class distribution plotted. Observations on germination,
regeneration and growth were recorded. Forest areas in Kerala having a potential to host a
swamp were predicted. Ground truthing was done. The possible number of S.
individuals was calculated and IUCN categorization re-examined. 153 trees in
60 swamp patches were counted but only 20 trees were present in 17 transects. Density was
11 trees/ hectare.
was the sixth most important tree in the swamps
0.1198). Girth class analysis and field observations
the species. Trees in the lower girth class comprising the immature trees show a decline of
upto 90%. Seedling responded well to treatment with fungicide and 300 survived in nursery
as against zero in the wild after one year.
Seven transplanted seedlings (KFRI arboretum)
showed 100 % survival after six years. PCA showed that S. travancoricum
was tolerant to
inundation when compared with the other Syzygium species. 11.76 trees/ 0.01km
is possible in terms of density. In 148 km
area with a potential for Myristica
swamps in Kerala, 174788.15
trees are theoretically possible. S.
remains in the critically endangered category but the criteria may be changed
to A1 e. Steps should be taken to ascertain the true population of S. travancoricum and
conserve its natural habitat.
Keywords: Syzygium travancoricum, Myristica swamps, Conservation, Regeneration.
(Gamble) is a critically endangered tree endemic to the South
Western Ghats, India. According to IUCN Redlist 2010, 2012 & 2013 only 200 trees are
found in Western Ghats. S. travancoricum is an evergreen tree growing upto 25 m in height
with white flowers belongs to the family Myrtaceae. S. travancoricum was first discovered in
the swampy lowlands (altitude less than 65 m) of Travancore by Bourdillon in 1894. Gamble
International Journal of Science, Environment ISSN 2278-3687 (O)
and Technology, Vol. 2, No 6, 2013, 1335 – 1352
Received Nov 4, 2013 * Published Dec 2, 2013 * www.ijset.net
(1935) described it in 1918 in the Kew Bulletin and in the Flora of the Presidency of Madras
in 1919. S. travancoricum are present in evergreen, semi-evergreen forests and a few scared
groves in Thiruvanthapuram, Kollam, Pathananthitta, Alapuzha and Thrissur districts
(Sasidharan, 2006). They have also been reported from freshwater swamps dominated by
trees belonging to the family Myristicaceae, particularly two species viz. Myrisitica magnifica
and Gymnacranthera farquhariana and are therefore referred to as Myristica swamps.
Krishnamoorthy (1960) first reported Myristica swamps from the Travancore region of South
Western Ghats. Champion and Seth (1968) classified such swamps under a newly introduced
category ‘Myristica Swamp Forests' under the Sub Group 4C. Other descriptions of in India
Myristica swamps include(Varghese 1992;Chandran et al., 1999;Santhakumaran et al., 1995;
Dasappa, 2000; Ravikanth et al., 2004; Nair et a 2007) As special abiotic conditions
(Chandran and Sivan, 1999 )are prerequisites for the development of Myristica swamp
forests, these swamp forests have become highly restricted and fragmented.
Anthropogenic interferences have further threatened the existence of this ecosystem. Pascal
(1988) reported conversion of these swamps to paddy fields and Rodgers and Panwar (1988a;
1988b) highlighted the systematic destruction of these swamps and called for Priority I level
implementation of their proposed Myristica swamp Wildlife Sanctuary. Recent studies (Joyce
2007a, b and c; Roby 2011, Nair et al 2007) have also outlined many threats to this
ecosystem. Ramesh and Pascal (1997) considered Myristica swamps as unique areas at the
ecosystem level and pointed out that though species poor, most species found in and around
the swamps are endemics.
The present study focuses on the distribution and quantification of S. travancoricum in the
swamps of Southern Kerala, its phenology, regeneration and, threats faced at
various stages of growth. We also predict forest areas that have a potential to be a habitat for
and while justifying the IUCN classification of ‘Critically Endangered’ call
for a revision in the light of our studies.
The study area, Myristica swamps of Kulathupuzha region is located in Southern
confluence of three revenue districts namely Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam and
Pathanamthitta. The swamps are scattered in three forest ranges namely Kulathupuzha and
Anchal forest ranges, and Shendurney Wildlife Sanctuary (Fig.1). Myristica swamp forests
are located along the first order tributaries of the west flowing rivers, Kallada and Itthikkara
(Gamble)-A Critically Endangered and Endemic Tree ... 1337
(Nair et al., 2007). Roby and Nair (2006) and Nair et al. (2007) have mapped sixty swamp
patches having a cumulative area of 149.75 ha which is 0.0039% of Kerala’s land area
) and 0.01348% of Kerala’s forested lands (11,126.46 km
). The climatic and
edaphic factors are discussed in methodology for prediction. Fieldwork in Myristica swamps
was done from November 2004 to March 2007. Ground truthing surveys in non Myristica
swamps forests were done from March 2007 onwards. Selected swamps in Uttara Kannada
(Darbejaddy, Nilkuntha, Thorbe, Kathelekan) were visited in 2008. Observations for
regeneration studies were continued till February 2011.
Materials and Methods
Morphological description of S. travancoricum as given by Sasidharan (2006) was accepted
as no significantly different observations were made during the study. The bark, leaves and
friuts are shown in Figures 2 and 3 respectively.
Data and Data Collection
1. Quantitative vegetation analysis
The quantification of data was done only in randomly selected 17 swamps of Kulathupuzha
forest range and presence of S. travancoricum recorded from the all other swamps including
Anchal and Shendureney WLS.
Standard sampling methods (Mueller and Dombois, 1974)
were adopted for the vegetation sampling. using sample plots of 100 x 10 m (0.1ha) divided
into ten 10 x 10 m quadrats in each individual swamps was done. Trees in each quadrat were
enumerated, identified and GBH (Girth at Breast Height (1.5m above ground)) of trees with
above 10 cm circumference recorded. Tree seedlings (GBH below 10cm) were enumerated
from the sample plots to determine the regeneration status of tree species in the Myristica
Density, Frequency, Abundance and IVI (Importance Value Index), were calculated using
suitable software (Invent-NTFP) (Sivaram et al., 2006). Based on the presence absence of S.
a kernel density map was produced using PAST (software).
Based on the GBH, trees were grouped into different class intervals as 10-30cm = saplings,
30-60 cm= poles, 60-90cm= small tree, 90-180=medium tree and above 180=large tree. and
Girth class distribution was graphically plotted.
2. Phenological, germination and regeneration studies
Various reproductive phenological stages such as flowering, fruiting, seed germination of S.
trees found in different Myristica swamps in Kulathupuzha were observed
every month for two years using a binocular (10X40). The growth and survival rate of 500
seeds of S. travncoricum, germinated in natural habitat were studied. At the same time 510
seedlings of two leaf stage below 10 cm height were collected from the study site and
transported to KFRI nursery in root trainer. They were treated with fungicide and proper
organic fertilizers and irrigated as needed. Surviving seedlings were transferred to KFRI
arboretum for further growth observation
and seven were selected at random for measuring
growth stages in field conditions.
Three plants within one metre distance from a stream and the other four at more than one
tailed paired Student’s T test was used to find significant difference using XLSTAT 2010.
3. Response to environmental factors
The effect of various environmental factors such as area under inundation, inundation depth,
temperature, relative humidity, canopy cover, area covered by litter, litter depth, area with
undergrowth, area covered by stilt root, area covered by knee root, GBH classes of trees10-
30, 30-60, 60-90, 90-180, above 180, gravel%, sand%, silt%, clay%, soil pH and soil OC
content on S. travancoricum, was studied by using a PCA using XLSTAT 2010.
4. Prediction of potential swamp forest areas that are a prime habitat Syzygium
In our study we found S. travancoricum very much adapted to Myristica swamps in Southern
According to Sasidharan (1997) this species, endemic to southern Western Ghats of Kerala, is
associated with the Myristica swamp forests The Myristica swamps’ distribution is specific to
the following precise physical and climatic factors.
Elevation: The elevation of the Myristica swamps above sea level seems to be a critical as all
the mapped Myristica swamps were found between 100-200 m from sea level. In Southern
Western Ghats areas between 100-200 m, which are found near rivers have the ability to
retain its ground water level above 6 m even in summer season and retain moisture
throughout the year. Previous workers point out that this retention of moisture is crucial in the
development of Myristica swamps and also in deciding the vegetation composition at various
SRTM (Shuttle Radar Topo Mission) data set of NASA distributed by USGS (United States
Geological Survey) (http://srtm.csi.cgiar.org) was used as material for elevation. The SRTM
90 m DEMS have a resolution of 90 m at the equator, and are provided in mosaiced 5 degree
(Gamble)-A Critically Endangered and Endemic Tree ... 1339
x 5 degree tiles, in geographic coordinate system-WGS-84 Datum (World Geodetic System-
84). The vertical error of the DEMs is reported to be less than 16 m.
Hydrology: Most of the swamps are in the first order streams and in most cases the swamps
are the origination point of the streamlets. To obtain data on streams, base layers from (scale
1: 1,000,000) Resource Atlas of Kerala, prepared and published by Centre for Earth Science
Studies, were digitized and used.
Soil: All Myristica swamps mapped were found in specific soil type which indicates the
influence of soils in the development of a particular plant community. According to soil maps
of Kerala (scale 1: 500,000) published by National Bureau of Soil Survey and Land Use
Planning (ICAR), the soil in which the mapped Myristica swamps were found can be
classified into two categories.
1) Mapping Unit-31 Very deep well drained, gravelly loam soils on steeply sloping medium
hills with thick vegetation, with moderate erosion: associated with very deep, well drained
soils on moderate slopes.
2) Mapping Unit-32 Deep well drained, loamy soils on gently sloping low hills with isolated
hillocks, with moderate erosion: associated with deep, well drained, loamy soils with
coherent material at 100 to 150 cm on moderate slopes, severely eroded.
Monsoons: According to the rainfall map over a period of 1902-1979 published by Centre
for Earth Science Studies (CESS) and the location of mapped swamps, Myristica swamps
come under the rainfall range of 50 cm to 150 cm in South West monsoon, 60 cm to 80 cm in
North East monsoon and 30 cm to 50 cm in rainfall other than monsoon.
Land use: Myristica swamps are located only in the forested area in the southern part of the
Kerala. Some swamps of the past are now settlements or plantations. Hence, these areas lie
outside the natural forest boundary as shown in Survey of India Topo sheets. Therefore, an
updated forest map of Kerala prepared by Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI) was used
for obtaining forest layers and protected area coverage of the forest.
These different parameters were combined to produce a model, which could simulate the
areas that have the potential to be Myristica swamp. The process is depicted in the flowchart
below (Fig. 5).
Results and Discussion
Importance value index of (IVI) S. travancoricum
We counted 153 trees in and around the sixty swamps but of the 17 Myristica swamps in
Kulathupuzha Forest Range sampled using transect (17000 m
) only six swamps have
and only twenty trees were present in the transect. Going by the IVI values
is in sixth position when compared to other tree species in the 17 Myristica
swamps sampled in Kulathupuzha (Table 1).
Table 1: Summary of the selected tree characteristics of Myristica swamps: (values
0.3384 0.8941 0.2013 0.3324 0.8721
691 406.4706 5.0809 0.3077 0.8000 0.1801 0.2505 0.7383
197 115.8824 2.3452 0.0877 0.4941 0.1113 0.1145 0.3135
3.3488 0.0641 0.2529 0.0570 0.0548 0.1758
1.6458 0.0352 0.2824 0.0636 0.0476 0.1463
1.2500 0.0089 0.0941 0.0212 0.0897 0.1198
355 208.8229 57.1082
0.157 1.6239 0.3647 0.1102 0.6341
2246 1321.176 75.7789 1.0000 4.4415 1.0000 1.0000 3.0000
If the values for S .travancoricum from only those six swamps (where it is actually present)
are considered (Table 2) then the importance of S. travancoricum in the swamps increases.
Table 2: Position of Syzygium travancoricum in selected Myristica swamps in Southern
(Gamble)-A Critically Endangered and Endemic Tree ... 1341
In Uttara Kannada, where another sub-population of S. travancoricum has been
terms of IVI is 17
. The IVI values range from 0.1065 to 0.5483 (Chandran et al. 2010). The
transects in six swamps of Southern Kerala (Table 2).
Girth class distribution
The girth class distribution for S. travancoricum is shown in the graph Fig. 6. The graph
shows reduced number of individuals in the lower girth classes and the graph plotted is an
almost perfect J instead of the expected inverted J. While phenological studies indicate
normal fruiting and seed germination patterns for this species, regeneration enumeration
shows that the problem may be in seedling recruitment. This indicates the there is a recent
threat in the survival of the species. Whereas, in the Uttara Kannada sub-population of S.
graphical representations of girth class distribution return an almost perfect
inverted J (Chandran et al. 2010) indicating a healthy regeneration pattern especially when
compared with the Myristica swamps of Southern Kerala.
The data further indicates a steady future decline of the S. travancoricum population with
immature trees contributing only 25% to the population in the transects. Trees in the lower
girth class comprising the immature trees show a decline of upto 90% (Table 3).
Table 3: Population decline in S. travancoricum indicated by % of various girth classes
% of total
% of mature and
% of decline of
showed maximum tolerance to inundation when compared to the other
three Syzigium species found in the swamp (Fig. 7). Soil texture especially the percent of
gravel and sand seemed to elicit a positive response from the tree. S. travancoricum did not
respond negatively to low pH of the soil (which is characteristic of the swamps) At the same
time the PCA map shows that humidity (a characteristic of the swamps) was placed quite far
from S. travancoricum and undergrowth (not a characteristic of the swamps) is placed quite
close to S. travancoricum. In the swamps, profuse undergrowth is rare due minimal
penetration of sunlight to the forest floor. However, as S. travancoricum has a distinct leaf
fall stage, the forest floor around this tree can support at least seasonal undergrowth. Better
sunlight penetration around the tree also reduces humidity when compared to other areas in
the swamp. So on one hand while S. travancoricum seems well adjusted to the salient
environmental feature of the swamp, namely inundation, closely associated parameter
humidity, and seems to deter the presence the tree. S. travancoricum may thus not qualify to
be a true swamp species like Myristica magnifica but seems better adapted to the swamps
than many other non swampy species.
Density and abundance of saplings inside the swamps
Of a total of 6402 saplings (GBH below 10cm) recorded from the 17000 m
area of Myristica
plots out of 17 plots sampled.
Leaf fall of this tree begins in January followed by flushing by mid February. Leaves begin to
month of July. Fruiting begins at end of April and extends up to September. At the end of
September most of the fruits fall Germination of the seeds follow within one month.
Numerous seeds germinated below the trees but almost all the seedlings dry up in the
We observed S. travancoricum produce thousands of seeds per tree (Fig. 4) every year. Most
of these seeds germinated within one or two weeks but the seedlings do not survive after the
two-leaf seedling stage. Usually the swamps are inundated at the time of fruit fall and seed
germination. It was presumed that fungal attack in the intense humid nature of the swamp
conditions is the problem.
Of the 510 seedlings of S. travancoricum at ‘two leaf stage’ collected from Myristica swamp
and transported in root trainer 500 survived and were planted in the nursery and treated with
Bavistin fungicide to prevent fungal attack. 300 seedlings (Fig. 8) survived after one year.
Field observations showed that no seedlings survived in the wild.
(Gamble)-A Critically Endangered and Endemic Tree ... 1343
In field trials
The seven transplanted seedlings of S. travancoricum (randomly selected) showed 100
percent survival. They reached an average height of 193.14 cm in six years with the height
ranging between 66-250 cm. The average diameter was 2.87 cm with values ranging between
0.9 - 4.7 cm.
The trees planted within one-metre radius from the stream showed a mean height of 331.167
m and trees planted beyond the one-metre radius showed a mean height of 186.556 m. There
was a significant difference between the heights of the two sets of trees over six years of
observation (p-value (Two-tailed) = 0.042; alpha = 0.05; DF; 5). The mean girth of the trees
planted within one-metre radius from the stream had a mean girth of
10.050 cm and for
4.802 cm. There was no
significant difference between the girths of the two sets of trees over six years of observation
(p-value (Two-tailed) =
; alpha = 0.05; DF; 5).
Out of 60 Myristica swamps studied, 29 swamps had S. travancoricum. The swamps in
Shendureny WLS sanctuary had maximum number of trees. The distribution of S.
is depicted in the kernel density map is (Fig.9).
Identification of potential areas by using GIS
swamps, other swampy areas and river banks of Southern Kerala. The geographical
distribution of surviving Myristica swamps were studied and mapped. Trivandrum and
Punalur Forest Division show maximum potential area of Myristica swamps (Table 4 and
This area includes Anchal and Kulathupuzha Forest ranges.
degrees (less than 1%).
Ground truthing in Non Myristica Forests
Surveys in forest areas of Kerala from 2007 March onwards in both high altitude and low
altitude areas have not led to the discovery of a sizeable sub population of S. travancoricum
outside the Myristica swamps. Chalakudy Forest Division including (Athirapally, Vazhachal
and Charpa Forest Ranges) has a small population of S. travancoricum with 20 mature trees
recorded by us.
IUCN Status and Criteria
Following the various published reports of S. travancoricum we
can estimate at the least a
trees from Aickad sacred grove,
20 from Guddrikal, 110 from Kalassamala grove (Sudhi,
Uttara Kannada published reports establish the presence of 35 individual trees from the
Table 4: Areas with potential for Myristica swamps in Kerala forests
area in km
Since S. travancoricum has been seen closely associated with Myristica swamps, if we
11.76 trees/ 0.01km
or 1176.47 trees per km
is possible in terms of density. Given our
prediction of about 148km
area with a potential for Myristica swamps in Kerala, we could
While our data indicates that there may be more than 250 mature individuals our data also
shows that there has been a continuing decline over the generations and that pole sized
individuals of the species are almost 90% less than the mature individuals.
Population reduction is clearly proved from our data and there is a continuing threat to the
seedlings in the wild in the form of pathogens (IUCN criteria A1 e). Therefore, we suggest
(Gamble)-A Critically Endangered and Endemic Tree ... 1345
that while S. travancoricum must remain in the critically endangered category till more data
is unearthed the criteria should be changed to A1 e from C2a.
We agree with Chandran et al., 2008, who express hope that more such relic patches
Rigourous groundwork along with GIS and RS studies is necessary to validate the presence
of more subpopulations of S. travancoricum. This is especially necessary because we have no
record of extensive logging or habitat destruction of this tree during the inception of modern
forestry in India by the British because of zero timber value.
Dasa et al. (2006) have considered Kulathupuzha Reserve Forests as a totally
Palode forests as high conservation priority in the Western Ghats. Kulathupuzha area is one
of the few regions having Myristica swamps. Inspite of the high biodiversity value of
Western Ghats it is most threatened among the hotspots as this region has the highest
population density per sq km (340km
) and a positive growth rate (Cincotta et al., 2000).
and all efforts in-situ and ex- situ be taken to ensure the continuity of this
species, conserving the habitat in its pristine form should also be prioritized.
Conservation of Myristica swamps has many benefits which includes preservation of one of
the smallest and most fragmented ecosystems found almost nowhere else in the world. It
would also ensure protection to many endemic and red-listed populations of plants and
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The work is part of a project was funded by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Govt’
of India. We are grateful to Dr. J. K. Sharma, Dr. R. Gnanaharan Dr K. V. Sankaran (former
Directors) and Director KFRI for encouragement and support. We acknowledge Mr. Shinoj
T.M. and our trackers for assistance in field and the Kerala State Forest Department for co-
operation. We thank everyone at KFRI especially those at the KFRI Library and KFRI
(Gamble)-A Critically Endangered and Endemic Tree ... 1349
Figure 1a and b. Study Area
Fig 2: Bark Surface Fig4: Seedlings in natural habitat
Fig 6. Girth
class distribution of Syzygium travancoricum
(Gamble)-A Critically Endangered and Endemic Tree ... 1351
Fig 7. PCA map showing
’s response to environmental gradients in the swamp
-1 -0.75 -0.5 -0.25 0 0.25 0.5 0.75 1
Variables (axes F1 and F2: 66.73 %)
F1 (49.51 %)
Fig 9. Kernel density map of Syzygium travancoricum
Area with a potential for Myristica swamp restoration- a prime habiat for Syzigium travancoricum
(Kollam and Trivandrum districts are most favorable for Myristica swamps. As per the analysis the
forest in the southern parts have more area coming under the required elevation, hydrology and
rainfall and soil type for sustaining Myristica swamps)
8.78 8.8 8.82 8.84 8.86 8.88 8.9 8.92 8.94