Tag: alien species

Mute Swan Moments

Mute Swan Moments

A commonly seen bird doesn’t really excite a local birdwatcher. Long time ago, a British birdwatcher visiting India said Red-vented Bulbul was his favourite. I said, ‘yeah they are nice birds’ but without much enthusiasm. When I went to UK, a local birdwatcher asked me which British bird I liked most. I replied instantly ‘Mute Swan’. He said, ‘alright, they are doing ok’. I could figure out that the tone was very similar to that of my response for that ‘boring and common’ bulbul. But he added, ‘but they are lovely, aren’t they?’ Indeed they are.

Mute Swan in Cam River
Mute Swan in Cam River

These birds became my favourite the moment I saw them in 2002 in the Cam River. Last year (September 2012) I had a chance to see these birds again, for a fairly long time. And the series of events that followed made my affection towards this bird even stronger. I spent a long time watching and photographing them in the Cam River. There were three cygnets (young Mute Swans) along with an adult. Mute Swans are a good subject for photography with their long neck and the white plumage reflecting on the ripples in the dark waters while they gracefully swim along the stream. Once in a while, they dipped their heads into the water to feed on the aquatic vegetation. Cygnets are dull greyish in colour. But they were certainly not ugly ducklings as folk lores portray.

Mute Swan with cygnets
Mute Swan with cygnets

I was in the UK to get trained in bird ringing. During my stay I had a chance to visit the British Birdfair. There the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) had a stall in which the volunteers explained to the visitors about bird ringing and demonstrated the technique with live, wild birds. To understand the importance of bird ringing by the public, they kept a box full of wrist bands on which a bird name and a ring number were printed.

I have been ringed as a Mute Swan..:)
I was ringed as a Mute Swan..:)

These were replicas of real rings put on birds during the demonstration. One could pick and wear a band of their choice. It meant that you had been ringed like that bird. Then you go with that band to the other BTO stall to find out some interesting facts about that particular ringed bird. Obviously, I choose a Mute Swan band and the ring number was W03598. I went to the BTO stall and showed my band. To my dismay I found that that bird was dead. I learnt that the bird had been hit by a golf ball when it was flying over the golf course! See the photograph below for more interesting facts.

Fact sheet of W03598
Fact sheet of W03598

My tryst with Mute Swan continued during my walk in a beautiful English countryside in East Sussex. I went crazy when I saw a Mute Swan swimming in the stream. A footpath ran parallel to the stream. I walked along keeping up my pace with the two Mute Swans swimming along the stream. That entire landscape wouldn’t have looked beautiful if these birds had not been there.

Mute Swan in English countryside
Mute Swan in English countryside

Something strange happened when I was following those birds. One of them raised its leg above the water and kept it in that position for a while. They do that once in a while to rest their legs. When I looked through the viewfinder of my camera I was surprised to see that it had been ringed! I quickly took some close-up shots and figured out the ring number—ZY2162. Soon after I got that photo it sank that leg back into the water. It was as if that bird raised its leg just to show me the ring number. Later when I informed this to the local ringing group I got to know that this bird had been ringed on 20th August 2011.

Showing off the ring!
Showing off the ring!

Another interesting thing which I noticed on that individual was that it was moulting and had lost its primary feathers. During this period individuals like these mostly stay in the water as they can’t fly too well and are vulnerable to predation by foxes.

Moulting individual without primary feathers
Moulting individual without primary feathers

Two days after that memorable sighting (6th November 2012), I was in the ringing hut busy ringing some passerines. Suddenly the ringers outside started cheering aloud and I instantly knew that they had captured an interesting bird. I came out and was awestruck to see a Mute Swan. We always want to touch the things which we really like. I fulfilled my wish by caressing the Mute Swan. When these kind of special birds are brought to the ringing hut, normally, they draw a lot from among the names of the participants present there written on pieces of paper. And guess whose lucky day that was? Yes, when they read out my name and said I got a chance to ring the bird I was over the moon.

Ringing a Mute Swan was a special moment. But it is not very easy to do that. Two people had to hold the bird while I put the ring. Since I had never ringed a Mute Swan before, other ringers around me helped enormously. Although my name is recorded in the register, I wouldn’t really boast that it was ringed by me alone. It was a collective effort. However, I was quite happy and thrilled that I got a chance to touch this beautiful bird once again. The ring number that I put on it was ZY2122. In case any of you see a Mute Swan with this ring number, do remember me!

Swan upping in East Sussex..:)
Swan upping in East Sussex! 

Mute swan was introduced in the US and now they are considered a pest. I personally don’t want to hate the Mute Swan even where it is non-native. But that is not possible in a biologist’s world. A biologist has to enjoy nature with discretion. This is a curse. We have so many specifications.

If someone in India says they like Lantana flowers, I would have given them a big lecture: “They are invasive plants, they are very bad, they don’t allow other plants to grow, they spread like hell, this is one of the serious problems now we are facing in Indian forests, this plant should be controlled, so on and so forth.” I hate to see Lantana in India, Eucalyptus in India. Likewise somewhere in some part of this earth somebody surely hates the Mute Swan for being non-native. Just the feeling that someone can hate these birds, makes me feel sad. Human beings did a mistake of introducing them in the places which are alien to them. And when they adapt themselves and flourish we call them invasive. Because of our mistake, those beautiful birds are losing their lives. Isn’t that awful?

Mute Swan at its native land
Swan and Shadow (Poem by John Hollander)

But when I was watching those beautiful Mute Swans beautifully swimming in that beautiful golden sun-lit stream, I thought to myself, I am watching the Mute Swans in their native land. Nobody around me to tell that, ’they are….

Lucky me!

Of tamarind and tolerance

Of tamarind and tolerance

An edited and shorter version of this article appeared in The Hindu Sunday Magazine on 17 June 2012.

For centuries, long rows of grand tamarind trees have marked our roadsides, particularly in southern India. The wide, old roads radiating from Coimbatore city, in particular, had long rows of grand tamarind trees on either side. One could see them on the road to Mettupalayam and the hazy blue mountains beyond, on the road to the sacred hill of Marudhamalai, towards the Sathyamangalam hills and Mysore to the north, through the expansive plateau and plains to Salem, and southwards past Pollachi to the ancient hills of the elephants, the Anamalai.

A highway flanked by tamarind trees, with people collecting fruits in bags, near Anamalai in Coimbatore District (Photo: P Jeganathan)
A highway flanked by tamarind trees, with people collecting fruits in bags, near Anamalai in Coimbatore District (Photo: P. Jeganathan)

The trees have stood like old sentinels, serene and solid through the rush of years. Their sturdy trunks and strong branches have towered over and across the roads, quite unmindful of buffeting rain and searing sun. Their twigs, festooned with dark green leaves, each with its paired row of little leaflets, have provided an impartial and unstinting shade and shelter for all. In return, the trees seemed only to need a little space by the side of road, to set their roots in, and a space to stretch their arms.

They stood like this until the men came with the axes and saws for the slaughter of the trees. The men brought heavy bulldozers and earth movers—construction equipment powered for destruction—to gouge the ancient roots of the tamarind trees out of the earth. Trees that had stood for centuries were brusquely despatched in a matter of hours.

Tamarind trees hacked away on the Mettupalayam Road (Photo: T. R. Shankar Raman)
Tamarind trees hacked away on the Mettupalayam Road (Photo: T. R. Shankar Raman)

The tamarind tree is an old and dignified citizen of our city avenues and gardens, our countryside and farms. Its name, derived from the Arabic tamar-ul-Hind or the ‘the date of India’, finds mention in written historical accounts of India going back centuries. There is irony in this, for the tamarind is native to Africa and not a species that grows naturally in India’s forests. Despite being alien to India, the tamarind has not run wild and become an invasive pest, becoming instead what biologists call a naturalised species. Embraced by a deep tolerance and cultural acceptance into Indian cuisine and culture, the tamarind is today a familiar and inseparable part of Indian life and landscape.

A wild tamarind tree near Laka Manyara in Tanzania, East Africa (Photo: Divya Mudappa)
A wild tamarind tree near Laka Manyara in Tanzania, East Africa (Photo: Divya Mudappa)

Abiding benefits

Before the men and the machines came, the tamarind trees seemed to have an abiding presence, like torch-bearers marking a productive countryside, like the enduring blue mountains in the distance. Their wide trunks rose above stout roots that pushed into the soil, like muscled and flexed thighs gripping the earth. Their fissured bark was thick and brown, aged and toughened and weathered, like the wrinkled face of the old woman selling mangoes in the patch of shade below.

Under the dense canopy, thousands of pedestrians and riders of two-wheelers found quick shelter from rain. Or, in scorching summers, a refreshing coolness cast by the tiny leaflets—how many leaflets does a tamarind tree have, a million, ten million? Even the air-conditioners seemed to waft easier and cooler in the metal cocoons of parked cars that escaped roasting in the sun. The trees seemed to abide, they granted benefits, and their beneficence was taken for granted.

Every year, the twigs were weighed down with hundreds of lumpy brown pods, with skins like coarse felt covering pulp, tart and tasty, and disc-like, shining seeds. The fruits were there for the taking. The adept and nimble climbed the branches to knock down the fruit. Their friends darted around to grab the fallen pods, dodging traffic.

Tamarind fruits collected from the roadside trees (Photo: P. Jeganathan)
Tamarind fruits collected from the roadside trees (Photo: P. Jeganathan)

On the roads, many tamarind trees had managed to rise above anonymity: each tree, even if not named, was numbered; each individual claimed by negotiation or auction by someone from the village or panchayat for its fruit. Collected, dried, and packed, the fruit of the tamarind trees would eventually find its way into a thousand dishes, enrich the palate of millions, and become inseparably incorporated in people’s cuisine, in their lives, in their very bodies. And no one could stop the children, who needed only a handful of stones to claim their share. The trees brought utility, food, cash, plain fun.

Tamarind fruits, seeds, and leaves are used for food and flavour, juice and snacks. Tamarind is now an inseparable part of Indian cuisine (Photo: Kalyan Varma)
Tamarind fruits, seeds, and leaves are used for food and flavour, juice and snacks. Tamarind is now an inseparable part of Indian cuisine (Photo: Kalyan Varma)

And yet, there is more to the tamarind. Beyond the utility and the benefits of the trees, there is something intangible, amiss, overlooked. It seems to emerge as a touch of beauty—an enlivening green in an increasingly dour landscape. A beauty fragile forever from the prospect of loss just a chain-saw away. It seems to emanate from the trees, too, from the sounds where a few still remain. The soughing of wind through ten million leaflets, in mournful restlessness, carrying the delicate aroma of the tamarind’s modest, finely-marked flowers. The creak of branches and the click of twigs holding the tamarind’s pendant fruit. Or, when the wind abates, a calming susurrus pierced only by the occasional screech of parakeets. And when dusk descends, the tamarind trees darken to the chuckle of mynas, the chatter of shy owlets, and the hoots of somnolent owls, rising with the stars. The trees are silent but full of sounds, and one who hears them may find things worth listening to.

Roadside aesthetic: a misty morning with tamarind trees along a road in Tamil Nadu (Photo: P. Jeganathan)
Roadside aesthetic: a misty morning with tamarind trees along a road in Tamil Nadu (Photo: P. Jeganathan)

Reading the landscape

Naturalists and ecologists, who spend a fair bit of their time watching the earth and its creatures, sometimes say that you can read a landscape, you can see its wounds and sense a need for healing. On the Mettupalayam road and onto the hills beyond, sure, you cannot miss reading the landscape: somebody has spelt it out in big letters for you. “Vote for ——— Party”, says one sign, painted with a crudely-daubed logo, rather unwittingly symbolic in its background of whitewash. “Faith in God”, says another, pointing to a higher authority. “Enjoy the Serene Villas”, declares a sign for a resort promising a better place, not above, but ahead. A painted board of the Forest Department, placed in front of a patch of forest that has existed for millennia, asserts: “Preservation Plot: This Forest has been Protected as it was for Decades”. And a wit, who has perhaps had a bumpy ride, has painted on: “And so has this road.”

The wounds are there, too. There are the cuts and gouges in the land, festering moistly with garbage and hyacinth. One wishes the waters would not find their way into these old tanks and streams to turn dry dumps of civilisation’s discards into suppurating sores. There are the stumps of surgery: trunks and branches neatly sliced to make way for better things like wires and cables. The rot sets in, hollowing into the stumps, but only to make homes for families of owls or mynas. There are the thorns in the side of the stumps and trees that remain: nails hammered in the hundreds, carrying rusty boards and advertisements and nameplates, or garlands of wilted and dried flowers placed for adornment—of what? Then come the nooses and garrottes—wires and ropes—some hanging loose, some stretched taut, decorated with ribbons or hooks and loops to hang the street-trader’s merchandise, or merely forgotten and cutting into the bark. And there is the wounded heart, cut with deep, desperate strokes, on the blazed bark of one of the trees still standing; a heart pierced by an arrow saying, “Sundari, I love U”.

Fall from grace

Then the old roads were labelled tracks, the tracks became streets, the streets became roads, and the roads became highways. And yet, we are not satisfied, we need super-highways. This idea brooks no questioning, no obstruction. The trees must make way for tarmac. The people who stood in the shade must make way for the cars that proliferate. The vitality of a living countryside must make way for the deathly artificiality of the city, spreading like a virus down the arteries. The living countryside and its other users don’t really matter: they mostly don’t have cars, anyway.

The tamarind trees are now painted with broad waist-bands in white and black, so that they are more visible to the highway motorist who can then avoid them. How effectively we mark something to be more visible and to be more ignored at once!

So, the tamarind trees drift into wayside anonymity, from anonymity to disuse, disuse to neglect. The fruits fall and are crushed under the tyres of vehicles. The road surface is studded with hard, shining seeds driven into hot tar, staring like eyes without eyelids at the sun and sky. Shade and greenery are replaced by heat and grime. The screech of parakeets and chuckle of mynas is replaced by the endless screech of tyres and squeal of brakes. The hoot of owls is deafened by the toot of horns and the soughing of wind by the howling of sirens: the ambulances are now busy day and night. Places where a person could live a full, good life become sites, where one cannot even die a good death.

Now, the tamarind trees are but old fixtures in the landscape, like old people, grandparents and elders, suddenly out of place in a redefined world, suddenly unwanted. And when the old trees fall, the countryside is bereft, like families broken.

Better road sense

It does not have to end this way. Engineers and ecologists, citizens from the city and the countryside, can join hands to find better design and transportation solutions. Solutions that incorporate retaining the old trees, such as tamarinds and banyans, as essential components of roadsides for their varied and indisputable uses, and as representing a more refined aesthetic sorely needed for our cities, roads, and countryside. What call do we have to deprive those who come after us of the public utility and beauty of these grand trees?

We need to retain the trees that remain and design better roads and public transportation that includes keeping the trees. (Photo: T. R. Shankar Raman)
We need to retain the trees that remain and design better roads and public transportation that includes keeping the trees. (Photo: T. R. Shankar Raman)

Even now, many stumps of felled trees lie metres away from widened roads: one wonders why they had to be felled at all. Natural landscaping, planning service lanes around trees, traffic regulation and public transportation solutions need to be found before the engineers and bureaucrats wield the axe, albeit indirectly from behind their desks, distanced and disconnected from land and landscape. Taken as a matter of wide public importance, decisions to retain or fell such trees should be based on democratic and public debate and consultation with and concurrence of citizens and citizen groups, and involvement of representative local administrative bodies, the judiciary, and the media.

Widening roads at any cost represents a one-dimensional view of progress, that compromises other human values, capabilities, and needs, which are all not really fungible. Our increasing disconnect with these values and capabilities only erodes the deep wells of tolerance and breeds alienation between people and nature, land and culture. There are better roads, so to speak, to take, and there is time yet to take them.

Yet, it is not merely that one misses seeing the trees for the road.The tamarind trees—those still alive on the roads around Coimbatore amidst the stumps of those that are gone—seem to stand for something deeper. An awareness that beauty is forever pitted against the peril of loss and tolerance against the spectre of alienation. Only when we cannot bear alienation, will we usher in tolerance. Only when we cannot countenance loss, will we embrace beauty.

It does not have to end this way. Engineers and ecologists, citizens from the city and the countryside, can join hands to find better design and transportation solutions. Solutions that incorporate retaining the old trees, such as tamarinds and banyans, as essential components of roadsides for their varied and indisputable uses, and as representing a more refined aesthetic sorely needed for our cities, roads, and countrysides. What call do we have to deprive those who come after us of the public utility and beauty of these grand trees?

Even now, many stumps of felled trees lie metres away from widened roads: one wonders why they had to be felled at all. Natural landscaping, planning service lanes around trees, traffic regulation and public transportation solutions need to be found before the engineers and bureaucrats wield the axe, albeit indirectly from behind their desks, distanced and disconnected from land and landscape. Taken as a matter of wide public importance, decisions to retain or fell such trees should be based on democratic and public debate and consultation with and concurrence of citizens and citizen groups, and involvement of representative local administrative bodies, the judiciary, and the media.

Widening roads at any cost represents a one-dimensional view of progress, that compromises other human values, capabilities, and needs, which are all not really fungible. Our increasing disconnect with these values and capabilities only erodes the deep wells of tolerance and breeds alienation between people and nature, land and culture. There are better roads, so to speak, to take, and there is time yet to take them.

Restoration in the Palani hills

Restoration in the Palani hills

A lovely article written by Ian Lockwood, which seems most appropriate to read today—Earth Day, 2012—has been published in Frontline. The article ‘Breathing life back into the sholas‘, which also talks about ecological restoration, is accompanied by a little box item explaining this as a ‘New idea in India‘. The article speaks of the unique shola – grassland ecosystems of the high mountains of the Western Ghats and of the ongoing work there on restoration of sholas and grasslands that have been degraded, destroyed, or badly affected by invasions of alien plant species. For those not familiar with Ian Lockwood, he is a brilliant photographer, educator, and writer, whose work you can see in the website High Range Photography and on his blog.

It is well worth picking up your copy of Frontline magazine (Volume 29 – Issue 07 dated April 7-20, 2012) just to see the beautiful photographs, especially the black-and-white landscape shots and panoramas that Ian Lockwood is famous for. You can see a preview of some page spreads on Ian’s blog here. Frontline is one of the few magazines that frequently carries full-length and detailed articles on the environment along with photographs and it is always nice to read a piece such as this in the magazine.

Lockwood’s article describes the unique montane landscape, its history, and conservation concerns, all of which serve as the backdrop for the ongoing ecological restoration work by a local NGO, the Vattakanal Conservation Trust (VCT). Through pioneering restoration efforts and partnership with the Tamil Nadu Forest Department, VCT is working to change the way we view and conserve the larger landscape.

In our own restoration work here in the Anamalai hills, we have learned much from and been inspired by the work of VCT, especially Tanya Balcar and Robert (Bob) Stewart of VCT. Bob and Tanya, both founders of VCT, are a couple of British origin settled in Kodaikanal for over 25 years. Sharing a deep passion for native plant species and their conservation, they are self-taught, top-notch botanists with wide experience of the incredible diversity of plants in the Western Ghats, including in the Palani hills. Concerned over the widespread degradation, especially in the Upper Palanis, for more than two decades now they have also done pioneering work on ecological restoration. This includes careful floristic studies, development of germination techniques of hundreds of plant species of shola forests and grasslands, implementation of restoration of highly degraded sites to sholas and their again-pioneering efforts at restoration of the unique montane grasslands (the famed habitat of the kurinji). Their contributions are also recorded in the monumental 3 volume The Flora of the Palni Hills by K. M. Matthew, one of the botanical treatises and authoritative reference works to emerge from Southern India.

Bob and Tanya and the VCT staff also maintain one of the longest-standing and diverse native plant nurseries in the region, besides having developed a grassland nursery and techniques to propagate native grassland plants. These are also documented in a chapter in our joint publication here. Their success in convincing the bureaucracy of the need for ecological restoration using native shola and grassland species and in working with committed officers is something to be respected and emulated. Their work is also showing insights into the effects of alien plantations on grasslands and wetlands, and water tables, and how ecological restoration can help to reverse the tide of degradation with benefits both for nature conservation and local people. Ian Lockwood has also written articles earlier, including in Sanctuary Asia and Frontline, with a highly appreciative but modest mention of VCT, all of which you can find linked on his blog. Taken together, this set of articles, documents well the context and significance of the region and the ongoing restoration work.

Alien in wonderland

Alien in wonderland

“Oh! So you have come all the way from Pulachi to Pollachi”, Sridhar asked me when he heard that I am from a place in Kolhapur district of Maharashtra called Pulachi Shiroli. Mesmerized by his sense of humour, a little dumb struck, I nodded, “Ya!”. The mere attraction of the Rainforest Restoration Program had brought me to the wonderful rainforests of the Anamalai Hills in the Western Ghats from the Forest Research Institute at the foothills of the Himalaya.

valparai
Valparai town surrounded with coffee and tea plantations, and the wonderful rainforests

Those were beautiful days in the Forest Research Institute in Dehradun, where I was studying for my M.Sc. degree. On one such beautiful winter evening, my friend Hari and I were sitting and chatting on the roof of our hostel, sipping hot tea and enjoying the beautiful snow-clad landscape of Mussoorie. The topic of discussion was nature conservation. It was Pavithra Sankaran’s article in April 2004 issue of Sanctuary Asia that brought our attention to rainforest restoration in the Anamalais. I felt that the programme was a ray of hope in conservation where we often hear of losing battles. With excited mind, I wrote to Divya Mudappa and Shankar Raman (Sridhar) about my willingness to work in Anamalais for my Masters’ dissertation. Fortunately, they accepted my request. For me, the dissertation was just a means of reaching the rainforest restoration programme.

As I met Divya – Sridhar in Valparai town located in the Anamalais, I realized that for the next three months I was going to be in this wonderful land with wonderful people. Still, things were not so easy and simple for me. Except for a craze for the restoration program and love for plants, I had not a single quality required for the ecological study I was about to begin. No basics in theory, no idea of study design, or stats, no knowledge of taxa other than plants and a very poor knowledge of English. With this bright background, I had landed up in Valparai!

landscape
Rainforests on the Valparai plateau, often fragmented and surrounded by alien plant species plantations such as coffee and tea, still support high biological diversity

The topic I chose for my dissertation was coffee invasion in rainforest fragments. The alien coffee plant was introduced here by the British for commercial plantations around the late nineteenth century. Two main species of coffee plant― Arabica coffee (Coffea arabica) and Robusta coffee (C. canephora)―have been cultivated in commercial plantations in this landscape. They are native to Africa. A recent study had observed that this alien plant had found its way into the rainforest fragments and was even regenerating by itself. And so I began my study to follow the trail of this alien to see how it had carved its way into the forest. It was also to be seen if this invasion was detrimental to the floral denizens of the forest.

TF and coffee edge

A rainforest fragment adjacent to the coffee plantation

As I was there, Sridhar advised me to go around and get an idea of the landscape as that would help me choose my study sites. So, I visited some of the rainforest fragments and restoration sites. One day with Divya and Anand, I was in Iyerpadi Top, a rainforest fragment, where planting was supposed to be undertaken in the coming monsoon. We were there with some field assistants, to clear invasive alien Lantana camara weeds on the site. As I had no specific work, Divya had asked me to go along and make a bird checklist of the site. My knowledge of birds was terrible but I couldn’t say No. I started to look for birds and made a list. After reaching back Divya asked me for the bird checklist. I uttered the first name, “Indian Drongo”, Divya turned back with a certain uneasiness on her face. She said, “Atul, there is no bird called an Indian Drongo”. [There are four other distinct species of drongos found in the rainforests around here (Ashy, Bronzed, Greater Racket-tailed, and Hair-crested Drongo) and two more in the drier tracts: Black Drongo and White-bellied Drongo.] My checklist stopped already. I was thinking, thank God I am working on plants… maybe Divya was thinking on the same lines, this guy deserves to work only on plants… nothing else.

After one month, I was heading back to my institute in Dehradun to attend the last semester. While I was on my way, someone had perfectly found out that I was indeed an alien to this land and I lost my bag with camera, clothes, and books.

elephants in tea

I got back to Valparai after finishing my semester and soon started gathering some data in the sites we had zeroed in on. Now, the problem was of communicating with field assistants! Somehow, I managed to mug up a few numbers unn, rend, moon…. along with some other Tamil words. But communicating with local people was also a unique experience. One day, I went to a shop and asked the shopkeeper for bread. He gave me a shaving blade. I realized, I should have asked for bredddu instead of bread.
The diversity in the rainforest fragments was exciting. I chanced to see several wild animals during data collection in these fragments. Watching the huge plants with astounding diversity was a thrilling experience. The time passed quickly and the data collection was over. I started writing up the work I had done but got stuck with making sense of the data I had just collected. Patiently, Sridhar sat me down and with his amazing teaching skills taught me the basics of the statistics.

ltm
Lion-tailed macaque in a rainforest fragment

My three months study was about to end. The analysis was showing that the alien coffee had become invasive in some of the rainforest fragments adjoining coffee plantations. This was partly due to the sheer proximity effect of the coffee plantation on spread of coffee seeds and also seed dispersal by wild animals into the rainforest fragments. Interestingly, between the two widely planted coffee varieties in this landscape, spread of Arabica coffee was related to disturbance with low level of invasion in the less disturbed forests. But Robusta coffee appeared more invasive and showed higher spread even in relatively undisturbed forest fragments, with negative impact on native flora. This was turned out to be a major point of concern from this study as many coffee estates have converted from Arabica to Robusta coffee in the Western Ghats (Research article).

Reflecting on my work, I was also struck by the thought that, in many ways, I was also alien to this landscape. However, those three months changed my way of life and thinking. Although coffee had made some negative impacts on the native plants there, I retreated from Valparai silently hoping that I had not made any negative impact on that fascinating landscape and people. But, after four years, I realize that, even if I had not intruded too much into Valparai, Valparai definitely had invaded my mind, and I love to retain this invasion forever.