Dr. Avik Ray and Dr. Rajasri Ray conducted ecological fieldwork on “Natural Resource Conservation and Management”

Dr. Avik Ray and Dr. Rajasri Ray conducted their ecological fieldwork and academic interaction in Purulia and Bankura district of West Bengal. During the visit, an interactive session on “Natural Resource Conservation and Management” with the under-graduate and post-graduate students of Pandit Raghunath Murmu Smriti Mahavidyalaya (P.R.M.S. College), Jamboni, Bankura was also organized. Dr. Subhasis Mahato, Faculty at Department of Forestry, was the local host and efficiently coordinated the entire program. He has also actively participated in the three-day long fieldwork surveying old trees in Bankura and Purulia.

Glimpses Of Nature And Culture

Death: Environment friendly

Death is the unavoidable and intriguing phase of human life. It reminds us of our very biological identity in the natural world leaving apart our supremacy over the ecosystem. Green BurialThis very biological entity of the human being increasingly creating trouble even after death!!!! Surprised? But it’s true. Although death means the end of everything but mortal remains are there, usually treated according to our socio-cultural and religious beliefs. Burial of dead body is a prevalent practice among many communities following different religions and the procedure is a lengthy one from dead body processing to the selection of burial ground. However, in the backdrop of population explosion, space crunch and environmental hazards, traditional burial processes seem to be inefficient in many ways. Application of embalming chemicals, growing demands of wooden caskets and burial places complicated the after-death rituals manifold.

To ease the operation especially from environmental viewpoint, the concept of “green burial” becoming popular in recent years. Among different methods, cremation with recycling is an interesting idea.  Here, after cremation, the remnants have grounded into powdery masses (known as Ash) and transferred to containers. The remnant is used as planting material for individual or mass plantation drive. The advantage is one can completely avoid the lengthy and complicated after death procedures to maintain the dead body, there is no requirement for burial place (a burning problem in the populated world) and no environmental hazard in terms of embalming chemicals or other associated items. In a way, our mortal remain is recycled in nature in a different form (here it is a plant) with an eco-friendly tag.

Photo: Google Image, Rajasri Ray

Collector: Rajasri Ray


Pomelo, Limau besar, or Jambura – whats in a name?

Sweet and mystic smell of Citrus flowers, fruits, and leaves have mesmerized people and fragrance-hunters alike. But, you may be unaware of the enchanting smellJambura waddle of Cirtus maxima or Citrus grandis – surely you have twisted and laid your tongue on its sweet and juicy fruit.

Call it in any name depending on your ethnicity and origin, e.g., Pomelo or Pumelo (English), Pampelmuse (German), Pampa limasu (Tamil), Batabi / Jambura (Bengali / Hindi), Chakotara (Hindi), Limau besar or Limau betawi (Malay), Jabong (Hawaii) or Jambola (broadly south Asia). Its size and shape vary, so does sweetness – red rind generally being sweeter than white ones. Scientifically named as Citrus maxima or Citrus grandis of Rutaceae family, its native range is spread across south and south-east Asia where it was domesticated, but contentions prevail. What followed domestication was long and complex history of translocation; traveling great distance, sometimes crossing borders, traversing oceans and continents largely facilitated by human movement; finally reaching Europe and America from the Orient. So, it landed on distant palettes, tickled their taste buds, and slowly mingled into local food culture. Recent cutting-edge scientific research suggests, Cirus maxima is a key species that can claim many modern edible citrus species as its offspring; so, it seems it has not only contributed to common and modern-day pomelo, its role – as mother or at least a part-parent of all the oranges – is not an exaggeration.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, the fruit has not achieved high Jambura Fruitcommercial importance as sweet orange or lime. But, it is largely grown in home gardens and savored locally. It has been culturally associated with various festivals in India and is valued highly during the festive seasons; e.g., in Chhath Puja (Bihar and Jharkhand), Vishwakarma and Durga Puja (Tripura, Assam and West Bengal). Also, there are many local ecotypes cherished and earned fame, such as Devenahalli Pomelo in rural Bangalore, Karnataka that won its GI tag recently, far-flung village of Medziphema in Nagaland is also a proud grower of sweeter pomelo, and so on – remains our lesser-known agrobiological heritage conserved at farm for posterity.

Photo: Avik Ray

Collector: Avik Ray


Rainbow on a tree!!

 If there is a contest of the most colorful tree on earth, rainbow eucalyptus Rainbow Eucalyptus(Eucalyptus deglupta, family: Myrtaceae) will surely have topped!! These trees also popularly called as Mindanao gum, have intriguingly multihued bark. On shedding of bark during summer, it starts revealing light green color beneath which gradually turns to dark green and to shades of blue, pink, red, purple, orange just like a rainbow. The tree is a native to the tropical areas of New Guinea, Surinam, Sulawesi

and Mindanao though it is now grown as an ornamental tree throughout the world. Interestingly the colors are not so bright outside its native range. Very little is known about why it changes color so dramatically. Working theory states that each bark layer of this plant has a single cell thick transparent cover. With the passage of time, this layer gets rinsed with variously colored tannins.  Accumulation of these tannins and degradation of chlorophyll finally lead to this vibrantly colored bark layers.

Source: Wikipedia

Collector: Debarati Chakraborty


The linguistic connection of biodiversity

Biodiversity, at first glance, seems to be connected with only living systems and their relation with surroundings, only a thorough look can reveal the presence of a myriad of factors spread below the surface. Language is vital among them. In general, language builds up the bond language Biodiversitybetween people, acts as identity for a community and a powerful tool for the overall improvement of society. However, the connection with biodiversity has been recognized recently and is an active field of research. Biodiversity components like vernacular names of flora and fauna, place names, rituals, taboos and most importantly community association are interwoven with the cultural and linguistic identity of a community. The environmental and ecological association of the people with nature is best expressed by his/her language and manifested through lifestyle, religious, and cultural practices. Moreover, the information is dispersed at intercommunity and intergenerational levels through language only. In a broader sense, it plays a prominent role in natural resource and landscape management, resource allocation strategy, and intercommunity relation in terms of resource acquisition and sharing. Global studies suggest that the pattern of linguistic diversity is well corroborated with species diversity, even, biological hotspots are good reservoirs of language diversity too (accounting 70% of the total languages on the earth and high endemism). Likely reasons for co-occurrence are many and locality specific, but one important factor is the socio-cultural association of the indigenous communities with biodiversity where language is a major vehicle of tradition and management. The loss of language or language shift is therefore slow but irreplaceable damage to biodiversity as it affects the available knowledge base of the region and ecosystem. If a language becomes extinct or suppressed by a dominant counterpart, the vocabulary associated with nature and natural resources is also affected due to the gradual decline of usage, incomprehensibility, and the lack of documentation. Subsequently, the specific knowledge base which is best expressed through that language becomes inaccessible and finally lost.

Source and Image: www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1117511109

Collector: Rajasri Ray


The Silent Autumn – festivity with soil impoverishment 

The great Indian festive season starts from September and continues up to December. The autumn festivals have a traditional linkage with harvesting season of the country. The festivals come as a long expected relief at the end of agricultural workload. Silent AutumnHowever, this happy milieu of festivity with agricultural products has some harmful side-effects in its own credit. Present day harvesting season is coupled with the period of disruption of bio-geochemical cycles – the cycling process of soil nutrients. Sounds interesting? Yes, it is but is quite alarming at the same time.

In our school days, we learned that the plant receives several elements like potassium (K) magnesium (Mg) molybdenum (Mo) zinc (Zn) etc from soil; needless to say, that the same is true for the crops also. Those elements are transferred from plant to animal body when animals consume plant as a food and in the same way pass from herbivorous to carnivorous animals. Those elements are essential for living organisms for growth and reproduction. After death, the plant or animal bodies or excreta are decomposed by a plethora of organisms and subsequently these elements come back into the soil.

Now, if agricultural products are consumed at a place nearby the site of production, then the nutrient may return through the complex process of recycling. But if it is consumed at a geographically distant place the nutrients can never come back to the production field through the natural cycling. Thus the fertility of soil becomes undone that we may call a metabolic rift.

One may argue that the transfer of agricultural product is a historical event, so is the transfer of nutrients. Whether the issue is also historic? It is historic beyond any doubt, but magnitude plays a key role in the current scenario. With the advent of city-centric civilization, there is an exponential increase in population, urbanization and city-centric resource gathering practices which affect nature and natural resources in different manner.

A very basic calculation on rice and wheat consumption in Indian household shows that yearly ~ 80013 metric ton potassium (K) transfers from agricultural field to cities (based on 2001 census data and 1999-2000 consumption profile). Adding other crops, the amount will be increased manifold. This amount of potassium never comes back to the soil through natural nutrient cycling and external application of fertilizers. The fate is the same for the other elements absorbed by the crops from the field and exported to the town. In this way, several tons of different micronutrients (i.e., Fe, Ca, Mg, Cu, Mn, Mo, Zn names please) are regularly lost from the agricultural field causing soil impoverishment at a massive scale.

To many, chemical fertilizers seem to be a solution but they invite several other problems. Major fertilizers (N P K) can’t supply micronutrients. Recommendation of micronutrient fertilizers is a matter of dispute as there is very little difference between the density of micronutrient ideal for production and the density which bring toxic effect. After six decades of green revolution different agricultural field of our country is now suffering from over density of some nutrients and deficiency of others. The festive season could be silent in not-so-far future.

Source : Foster J.B. (2000) Marx’s Ecology Materialism and nature, Monthly Review Foundation

Photo: http://www.uq.edu.au/_School_Science_Lessons/6.65.2.GIF

Collector: Abhra Chakraborti



The unrealized potential of lichens in nature

Not many people are aware of lichens though they must’ve seen them growing as differently shaped and colored patches covering the tree barks or buildings around them. Often they also mix up lichens with mosses which is far from the truth because mosses are primitive non-vascular plants having plant-like structures and chloroplasts throughout their bodies. Lichens, on the other hand, do not have any plant like structures and exhibit different colors suchLichen types based on substratum as green, grey, red, yellow, etc., in their thallus, unlike the mosses which are mostly green colored fluffy patches. The lichens are unique organisms owing to the intricate symbiotic relationship they portray wherein both its heterotrophic (fungus) and autotrophic (green algae/cyanobacteria) partners together form a single plant thallus. The mycobiont part of lichen provides the shelter, aids in the assimilation of moisture, micro and macronutrients for the photosynthetic partner to grow and in turn receives the carbohydrates for their metabolic activity. Lichens are usually slow-growing, long-lived and stress tolerant organisms chiefly grouped into three morphological groups – crustose (crust-like), foliose (leaf-like) and fruticose (beard-like) forms. Based on the substratum where lichens grow, they can be classified as corticolous (growing on the tree trunks and bark), saxicolous (growing on the rocks and boulders), terricolous (growing on soil), foliicolous (growing on evergreen leaves) and muscicolous (growing on moss) (Figure1). The symbiotic relationship coupled with the ability to quickly absorb and retain water from different sources enable lichens to grow and live successfully in all types of environments including the polar regions and the deserts (Bhat et al., 2011).

With more than 19,300 species of lichens existing worldwide, they are known to dominate approximately 8% of the Earth’s land surface (Lucking et al., 2016; Nash, 2008). India, being a biodiversity rich country, is also home to more than 2700 lichen species, of which about 20% are endemic to Indian boundaries and this number keeps updating with newer explorations and discoveries (Sinha et al., 2018). Lichenogeographical regions of IndiaBased on the available information, the country is broadly divided into eight different lichenogeographical regions –Western Himalaya, Eastern Himalaya, Western Ghats, Eastern Ghats & Deccan Plateau, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Central India, Gangetic Plain and Western Dry Region (Figure 2). Among these, the Eastern Himalaya and the Western Ghats harbor maximum diversity of lichens with over 1100 species each. However, the Western Ghats harbors maximum number endemic taxa (266 taxa) in comparison to Eastern Himalayan region (187 taxa) (Nayaka & Asthana, 2014).

Besides being an integral and important part of biodiversity, the lichens are highly valued as ecological indicators for a variety of environmental parameters like air quality and climate change. The lichen growth and diversity is mainly influenced by the air quality, microclimatic parameters, forest management systems, tree species composition, and their bark characteristics as well as the anthropogenic factors. Hence, the lichen diversity in natural habitats has often been used as a general indicator of forest health and ecological functions (Will-Wolf et al., 2002) as the lichens are key primary producers in an ecosystem and linked to its food webs as well as the nutrient cycling. For example, a high growth of parmeliod lichens (members of lichen family Parmeliaceae) indicates drier climate and open forests as these lichens are photophilic (preferring high light intensity) in nature. bio-monitoring studies of Pyxine cocoes On the other hand, the luxuriance of lichens belonging to Graphidaceae, Porinaceae, and Pertusariaceae indicate a more humid environment and forests with dense canopy having low light penetration (Phatak et al., 2004; Plata et al., 2008).

Lichens are also known to accumulate metals and other pollutants like nitrogen and sulfur compounds from the atmosphere as dry or wet deposition. This accumulation occurs by particulate trapping, active uptake of anions and passive absorption of cations (Nieober et al., 1978). The amount of macronutrients such as nitrogen, sulfur, potassium, magnesium, and calcium in the lichen thallus changes seasonally whereas the trace elements such as cadmium, zinc, etc. are accumulated slowly in the thallus owing to their less mobility as compared with former. Due to these properties, the elemental compositions of lichen thallus has been useful in many studies for mapping the pollution depositions or for characterizing pollution gradients in the atmosphere. Even though the elemental compositions do not directly provide information on the total deposition at a particular site, they do serve as a useful tool for informing relative patterns of deposition.

In India, the accumulation of metal (Al, Cd, Cu, Cr, Fe, Pb, Ni, Zn) pollutants in lichen thallus by passive as well as active principals is well documented from different cities of the state of Uttar Pradesh (Faizabad, Lucknow, Kanpur and Raebareli district), Madhya Pradesh (Dhar, Katni and Rewa district), West Bengal (Hooghly and Nadia district), Maharashtra (Pune and Satara district) and Uttarakhand (Dehradun and Pauri district) (Shukla & Upreti, 2007). foliose lichens as spice in the market Among the various lichens in India, Pyxine cocoes (Figure 3) which is a foliose lichen commonly growing on the mango trees has been found to be an excellent organism for determining the pollutants emitted from the coal-based thermal power plant. Similarly, another tropical lichen species Phaeophyscia hispidula belonging to the same lichen family as that of Pyxine bears a thick tuft of hairlike rhizines which act as a metal reservoir and exhibit higher accumulation of most of the metals (Upreti et al., 2015). This excellent accumulation potential of lichens coupled with their sensitivity to acidic gases and presence of distinct morphological and/or physiological symptoms makes them successful bioindicators of air pollution.

The lichens have also been a part of household items in India since ancient times with their major collections from the Western Ghats and the hilly regions in the Himalayas. Mostly the parmeliod lichens such as Parmotrema, Everniastrum, Bulbothrix, and Hypotrachyna are used by the indigenous communities mainly as spices and condiments (Figure 4) as well as for preparation of perfumes and dyes. Many commercially packed ‘Garam masala’ or ‘Sambhar masala’ also contain lichen powder or whole plants as major ingredients.

The medicinal properties of lichens have also been recognized around the world including India. The reported biological activities including antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antipyretic, anti-proliferative and cytotoxic effects are suggested to be due to the presence of a diverse array of chemical compounds which even raise interest of the pharmaceutical industries (Boustie & Grube, 2005). In traditional medicine system of Ayurveda, the vernacular name of lichens ‘Chharila’ is widely used in the treatment of headache, skin diseases, urinary trouble, boils, vomiting, diarrhoea, dysentery, heart trouble, cough, fever, leprosy and as a blood purifier (Nayaka et al., 2010). Chandra & Singh (1971) provided a detailed description of crude drug ‘Chharila’ sold in Indian markets which comprises three species of Parmelia lichen. Besides this, the lichens have been extensively studied for the unique secondary metabolites and so far about 1500 are identified (Huneck & Yoshimura, 1996).

Apart from their usefulness to the humans, lichens play a crucial role in supporting varied ecological functions related to the wildlife. They serve as food resources, shelters as well as nesting materials for different animals such as deer, elk, mountain goats, antelopes, squirrels, mice, bats, etc. Species such as Ramalina fraxinea is eaten by squirrels while various species of Cladonia are eaten as key winter foods by the reindeers. Besides, there are some species of grasshoppers, butterflies, moths, spiders, snails, and slugs which camouflage themselves as lichens. For example, the insect – lichen Katydid camouflages itself so intricately that even its dark solid body is etched with lines that look like the lichen, creating the illusion that this is nothing more than a strange tuft of tangled lichen branches.

Despite there being so many uses and applications of lichens, they still remain a mystery to the common people. We see them growing as colored patches on tree trunks, rocks, monuments and many places around us but we choose to ignore these dynamic elements of nature. However, a significant increase in the lichen studies especially in the last couple of years points out to a renewed interest among the researchers which has helped enhance the knowledge of diversity and use values of lichens.



1)  Bhat SP, Dudani SN, Subash Chandran MD & Ramachandra TV (2011) Sahyadri Shilapushpa – Lichens: General Characteristics. Sahyadri E-News Issue – 34, Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.

2) Boustie J & Grube M (2005) Lichens – a promising source of bioactive secondary metabolites. Plant Genetic Resources 3, 273–287.

3) Chandra S & Singh A (1971) A lichen crude drug (Chharila) from India. Journal of Research in Indian Medicine 6(4), 209–215.

4) Huneck S & Yoshimura Y (1996) Identification of lichen substances. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg, New York. Nash TH (2008) Lichen Biology. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

5) Nayaka S & Asthana S (2014) Diversity and distribution of lichens in India vis a vis its lichenogeographic regions. In: Marimuthu T, Ponmurugan P, Subramanian M, Mathivanan N, Anita S (Eds) Biodiversity Conservation – Status, Future and Way Forward. Chennai, India: National Academy of Biological Science, pp. 79–96.

6) Nayaka S, Upreti DK & Khare R (2010) Medicinal lichens of India. In: P.C. Trivedi (Ed.) Drugs from Plants. Avishkar Publishers, Distributors, Jaipur, India.

7) Nieboer EA, Richardson DHS & Tomassini FD (1978) Mineral uptake and release by lichens: an overview. The Bryologist 81(2), 226–246.

8) Phatak S, Nayaka S, Upreti DK, Singh SM & Samuel C (2004) Preliminary observation of lichen flora of Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary, Goa, India. Phytotaxonomy 4, 104–106.

9) Plata RS, Lucking R & Lumbsch HT (2008) When family matters: an analysis of Thelotremataceae (Lichenized Ascomycota: Ostropales) as bioindicators of ecological community in tropical forests. Biodiversity Conservation 17, 1319–1351.

10) Shukla V & Upreti DK (2007) Heavy metal accumulation in Phaeophyscia hispidula en route to Badrinath, Uttaranchal, India. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 131: 365–369.

11) Sinha GP, Nayaka S & Joseph S (2018) Additions to the checklist of Indian lichens after 2010. Cryptogam Biodiversity and Assessment 197–206.

12) Upreti DK, Bajpai R & Nayaka S (2015) Lichenology: Current Research in India. In: Bahadur B, Rajam MV, Sahijram L & Krishnamurthy KV (Eds.) Plant Biology and Biotechnology Vol. I: Plant Diversity, Organization, Function and Improvement. Springer India.

13) Will-Wolf S, Scheidegger C, McCune B (2002) Methods for monitoring biodiversity and ecosystem function. Monitoring scenarios, sampling strategies and data quality. In: Nimis PL, Scheidegger C, Wolseley P (Eds) Monitoring with lichens: monitoring lichens. Kluwer, Dordrecht.

About Author :

Sumesh N. Dudani, Siljo Joseph and Sanjeeva Nayaka

Symbiotic ant-plants: story of resident ants and how they use probable ‘mutualistic’ fungi

Biological interactions are necessary for the functioning of an ecosystem and also for the survival of the individual organism as no organism can exist in absolute isolation in nature. Look at our surroundings, climbers twining around the trees for support, orchids and mosses grow on moisture laden branches, Cuscuta or golden parasites spread over shrubs/trees, all are the intricate relationship between host and seekers in terms of habitat, nutrition, and protection. Symbiosis is one such interrelation in which organisms are involved in a close and long-term relationship with each other and each termed a symbiont and may be of the same or of different species. Mutualism is a type of symbiosis in which all the participating organisms benefit from the relationship. We come across mutualism every day around us in nature, for example when we see a tree log covered in lichen inside a forest which is actually a complex symbiotic association between algae or cyanobacteria and fungi. The relationship of lichen is mutualistic in nature as both the species get benefits i.e. fungi helps in anchorage, protection and absorbing nutrients from the substrate while the algae contribute in photosynthesis by using their chlorophyll that the fungi lack. The similar mutualistic symbiotic association we also see in mycorrhiza fungi of Glomeromycota as they form an association with the root system of higher plants and contribute extensively to nutrients exchange.

Myrmecophytes or ant-plants are an excellent example of a symbiotic relationship where the plant has a symbiotic relationship with ant colonies.  Symbiotic ant-plants often develop a hollow structure in their stem internodes called a domatium that provides shelter to its ant resident and also provides the food resources in the form of extrafloral nectar (EFN). In return, most associated ant species protect the plant against herbivores, pathogens and other competing vegetation (Frederickson et al., 2005; Rosumek et al., 2009).

Humboldtia brunonis (Leguminosae), an endemic ant-plant ofHumboldtia brunonis the Indian Western Ghats dominates the rainforest understory (Figure 1) and produces EFN on young expanding leaves and floral bud bracts but all individual plants do not produce domatia (Chanam et al., 2015). Plants with domatia give shelter to 16 ant species of which only Technomyrmex albipes provides protection to the plant in the region where herbivory is highest and Vombisidris humboldticola is uniquely associated with the plant (Zacharias & Rajan, 2004; Shenoy & Borges, 2010; Shenoy et al., 2012; Chanam et al., 2014).  The domatia are also occupied by several other invertebrates, most prominently by the arboreal earthworm Perionyx pullus (Gaume et al., 2006) (Figure 2). Domatia-bearing plants receive more benefits in terms of nitrogen absorbed from ant-occupied domatia (Chanam et al., 2014).

Ant-plant systems are often tripartite or even more complex where third-party interactions are provided by ant-associated mutualistic fungi (Mayer et al, 2014). Ant–fungal mutualisms are 45–65 million years old and widely known in fungus-farming attine ants (subfamily Myrmicinae, tribe Attini) where the ants cultivate fungi as the food source. Many ants use fungi to build nests, traps, or galleries using carton structures (cardboard-like materials from masticated plant fibers) (Lauth et al., 2011).Technomyrmex albipes ants feeding EFN on young leaflets

The fungal culture is also reported in few groups of arboreal ants dwelling inside domatia of tropical ant-plants where the ants are reported to maintain a group of fungi inside domatia as a possible food source (Blatrix et al., 2009; Vasse et al., 2017). Domatia-dwelling ants also use fungi to construct carton structures in order to modify the domatia interiors in certain systems as well (Baker et al., 2017; Chanam and Borges, 2017).

We have found that in Humboldtia brunonis system ants use fungi in two distinctive ways inside the domatia: i) building a disc-shaped carton partition between the zone occupied by ants and earthworms in the case of co-occupied domatia, and ii) maintaining a group of fungi in the inner wall of domatia, probably as a food source (Figure 3). We hypothesized that in the presence of earthworms, with which the ants have an antagonistic relationship, the ants can only reside and maintain a fungal culture in the domatia wall by constructing a carton separation using a different group of fungi.  Brown carton collected from earthworm occupied domatia To disentangle the fungal association with ant-plant complex, we approached through metagenomics to characterize two distinct fungal communities directly from domatia sample as many fungi still non-culturable in laboratory condition. We characterized the community profile of car-ton and wall fungal clades by the metabarcoding technique in the DNA sequencing platform named Oxford Nanopore using universal fungal genomic marker ITS1 (Figure 4). When we successfully identify some organism we call them a taxon but in many cases using genomic marker especially for enigmatic microbes, we cannot identify the exact taxon name. In a scenario like this, we use a terminology called Operational Taxonomic Unit or OTU. We have found that the OTU abundance for both fungal clades indicates the ants have a clear preference for fungi of the order Chaetothyriales as a probable food source in the domatia wall while they use a more diverse group of fungi in cartons. Our study shows a possible tripartite symbiosis in this ant–plant system involving ants, plants, and fungi for the first time from the Indian subcontinent.Identification process of diverse fungal community

Fungi have been noticed within domatia of other ant-plants (Janzen, 1972). It has been demonstrated in the symbiosis between the plant-ant Petalomyrmex phylax and the ant-plant Leonardoxa africana (Defossez et al., 2009) that the ants provide protection and nutrients to their fungal symbiont (Defossez et al., 2011) and use the fungal symbiont as a food source (Blatrix et al., 2012). Another function of fungi associated with plant-ants may be to enhance the transfer of nutrients to the host plant (Leroy et al., 2011). Fungi are also reported to be manipulated by ants to make net-like traps for capturing prey (Nepel et al., 2014). So far the fungi known to be involved in the tripartite ant–plant–fungus interactions belong to the order Chaetothyriales (Ascomycota). These fungi are usually dark, melanized, slow-growing, often colonize extreme environments (Zhao et al., 2010; Seyedmousavi et al., 2011) and are commonly called ‘‘black yeasts’’ (Voglmayr et al., 2011).

Our findings have showed similar fungal preference by ant but in this system, the ants are using the fungi in both as a probable food source and building block elements in presence of other invertebrates i.e. the earthworms. Most interestingly the ants are perfectly aware of the specific fungal groups which are supposed to be used for food and which are supposed to be used for the building block.

Mutualism has its contribution to the fitness benefits and also in nitrogen budget of the plant either directly through absorption by the plant from ant wastes or via fungi cultivated by the ants within the domatia (Rosumek et al. 2009; Defossez et al. 2011; Leroy et al. 2011; Dejean et al. 2012, 2013). Similarly, in Humboldtia system, trees with domatia has greater fruit set than those without domatia; if the domatia were occupied by the protective ants then the fitness benefit was found to be even greater (Gaume et al. 2005). The Humboldtia system provides a unique opportunity to explore further the behavioral aspects of ants towards a specific group of fungi in the presence or absence of different co-occupants. The exact purpose of fungi and any other role of their presence that might felicitate benefits to the plants still remain to be explored. How the ants are able to maintain the different group of fungi in close domatia is a surprising fact and yet to be discovered in this fascinating endemic symbiotic ant plant system from the Indian Western Ghats.


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2) Blatrix R, Bouamer S, Morand S & Selosse MA (2009) Ant-plant mutualisms should be viewed as symbiotic communities. Plant Signaling and Behaviour, 4: 554–556.

3) Blatrix R, Djiéto-Lordon C, Mondolot L, Fisca PL, Voglmayr H & McKey D (2012) Plant-ants use symbiotic fungi as a food source new insight into the nutritional ecology of ant-plant interactions. Proceedings of the Royal Society London B, 279: 3940– 3947.

4) Chanam J & Borges RM (2017) Cauline domatia of the ant-plant Humboldtia brunonis (Fabaceae). Flora, 236-237: 58– 66.

5) Chanam J, Kasinathan S, Pramanik GK, Jagdeesh A, Joshi KA & Borges RM (2014) Context dependency of rewards and services in an Indian ant-plant interaction: southern sites favour the mutualism between plants and ants. Journal of Tropical Ecology, 30: 219-229.

6) Chanam J, Kasinathan S, Pramanik GK, Jagdeesh A, Joshi KA & Borges RM (2015) Foliar extrafloral nectar of Humboldtia brunonis Fabaceae, a Paleotropic ant-plant is richer than phloem sap and more attractive than honeydew. Biotropica, 47: 1-5.

7) Defossez E, Djiéto-Lordon C, McKey D, Selosse MA & Blatrix R (2011) Plant-ants feed their host plant but above all a fungal symbiont to recycle nitrogen. Proceedings of the Royal Society London B, 278: 1419-1426.

8) Defossez E, Selosse MA, Dubois MP, Mondolot L, Faccio A, Djieto-Lordon C, McKey D & Blatrix R (2009) Ant-plants and fungi a new three-way symbiosis. New Phytologist, 182: 942-949.

9) Dejean A, Petitclerc F, Roux O, Orivel J & Leroy C (2012) Does exogenic food benefit both partners in an ant-plant mutualism? The case of Cecropia obtusa and its guest Azteca plant-ants. Comptes Rendus Biologies, 335: 214–219.

10) Dejean A, Orivel J, Rossi V, Roux O, Lauth J, Male PJG. et al. (2013) Predation success by a plant-ant indirectly favours the growth and fitness of its host myrmecophyte. PLoS ONE, 8: e59405.

11) Frederickson ME, Greene MJ & Gordon DM (2005) Ecology: ‘Devil’s gardens’ bedeviled by ants. Nature, 437 : 495-496.

12) Gaume L, Zacharias M, Grosbois V & Borges RM (2005) The fitness consequences of bearing domatia and having the right ant partner: experiments with protective and non-protective ants in a semi-myrmecophyte. Oecologia, 145: 76–86.

13) Gaume L, Shenoy M, Zacharias M & Borges RM (2006) Co-existence of ants and an arboreal earthworm in a myrmecophyte of the Indian Western Ghats: anti-predation effect of the earthworm mucus. Journal of Tropical Ecology, 22: 1–4.

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About Author :

Arkamitra Vishnu

Sasandiri: A small attempt to understand the meaning of place from the perspective of the Munda community

Jharkhand, one of the mineral-rich states of India, is the abode of various Adivasi communities.  With the advent of resource hungry technocentric civilisation, the lands of Jharkhand became precious for ‘development’. Due to the development projects the Adivasis and Moolvasis of Jharkhand have been facing the trauma of displacement. The rehabilitation programs and compensation packages have failed to protect the traditional, cultural, social, and economic interests of the Adivasi communities.  These failures indicate the fact that the policymakers could not asses the value of the Adivasi land from the Adivasi perspective. Dayamani Barla in her book Kissanon ki Jameen Loot Kis Ke Liye writes:

“..सवाल है किसका मुआवजा मिलेगा?  क्य आदिवासियों, मूलवासियों, किसानों, कारीग्रों की भाषा-संस्कृति को? सामाजिक मुल्यों को? आदिवासियों के इतिहास को? इंके पारम्परिक मुल्य ? प्रकृतिमूलक समाज के परम्परागत ज्ञान-विज्ञान,नोलेज और कला को? ..सर्ना-ससनदीरी का? क्या कलकल बहती नदियों का? ..क्या शुद्ध ह्वा का? आखिर किस्का मूआवजा ? और किसका पुनर्वास? जबकि आदिवासी समाज मानता है कि इनके सामाजिक. सांस्कृतिक,आर्थिक, धार्मिक अस्तित्व, सरना-ससनदिरी, को न तो पुनर्वासित किया जा सकता है और न हि किसी मूआवजा से भरा जा सकता है”. (Barla 19-20)

“ The question is of what things we would get as compensation? Of the linguistic culture of Adivasis, Moolvasis, peasants, artisans? Of our social values? Of the history of adivasis? Of the traditional values of those things? Of the science-technology, knowledge, art of environment centric society? Of sarna-sasandiri? Of that babbling river which is flowing? Of pure air? What things? And also the rehabilitation of what? Whereas Adivasi society believes that the social, cultural, economic, religious beingness and the sarna-sasandiri are neither can be rehabilitated nor can be compensated?

Dayamani Barla’s words focus on the way Adivasi society understands the landscape. The landscape falls within the realms of physical, psychological, and emotional relationships. To understand the nuances of the relationship, we may try to engage with the meanings/interpretations of the term Sasandiri from the perspective of  Munda community of Chota Nagpur Plateau.

The Munda people probably descended from Austroasiatic linguistic group from Southeast Asia. Initially, they were nomadic hunters. With the time they became farmers but did not sever their bonds with the forest (Wikipedia).

Sasandiri is the place where the Mundas bury the bones of the ancestors of a Kili[1]  under stone slabs. The stone-slabs are known as Sasandiri. But it is not meant for anyone living in the village. If the deceased belong to the family of the first settler or Khuntkattidar of that village, only then her or his bones get a place in Sasandiri.  The bones of a deceased member of a Kili died ‘‘during the preceding twelve months’ were ceremonially buried in the family sasan’’on ‘Jang-topa’ day. Jang-topa ceremony is generally performed in the month of January -February (Pous-Magh) ( Roy 2010).

Hence the meaning of Sasandiri to a Munda person is not just a burial ground. It means the inheritance of the land. It is also a space of continuity and symbol of adivasi identity-the identity of the first settler. A khuntkattidar was the one who settled the first village after finding the place suitable for continuing Munda way of living. If we look at the prayers that are chanted by Pahan during various festivals and rituals, we can see the prayers along with the bongas (spirits) call  ‘ancestors, foreparents, and elders’ to join the ceremonies, to bless the living beings. The followers of  Adi-dharam believe that the living ones coexist with the deceased spirits. The departed souls do not abode for heaven or hell. Instead, the dead one comes back at the house, and the soul of the dead through the ritual and prayer gets included in the world of the ancestors.

Interestingly, the ceremony of ‘Umbul -ader’ or ‘return of shadow’ is a ritual of celebration. This day the family members bring back the soul of the deceased. The relatives join the ceremony. After the sun is down, accompanied with drums selected persons to go to village Masan to bring back the shadow of the deceased. Until the soul of the deceased comes back to the house, relatives make a small hut at the Masan for the dwelling of the deceased. On the day of Umbul later, those who go to bring back the shadows burn the hut and bring back the shadow to the ‘ancestor corner’ of the house. Before entering the house with the shadow, men declare that they bring happiness. The ceremony reveals the importance of burial ground or home to the Munda community. An emotional and historical sense of belonging is attached to the Sasandiri. The compensation structure does not have the tools to understand, acknowledge, and calculate the value of the place that is an integral part of Adivasi society. To Dayamani Barla Sasandiri is one of the symbols of Munda identity. The place is the abode of ancestors. It also carries the truth that the living souls would meet the deceased and it is also a place of direct connection with the ancestors who live in shadow and also in memory. ‘Everything would wither’ she repeated the sentence twice while describing the importance of Sasandiri in the living space of Munda community.

Hence, Sasandiri is the actual place that holds memories of elders and histories of Munda elders’ transition from one place to another. Here the members of Khuntkattidars reunite once in a year and perform the cultural practice. The site also symbolises Munda tradition.  The image of sharing the production of land with the ancestors situates the very place as one of the repositories of connection. Sasandiri and agricultural lands in the narrative of Dayamani become an integral part of adi-dharam– the Munda way of living. The dead ones coexist with the human species because the other world is a demarcated place within the village. This coexistence is also the part of Munda identity.

From this perspective, one must read the words of Dayamani Barla once again. She is talking about a Munda way of life that thrives on relationships that are physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual. Negation of any of these relationships would be a negation of indigenous existence.

Reference :

1) Barla D (2016) Kissano Ki Jameen Loot Kis e Liye? Ranchi: Adivasi- Moolvasi Astitva Raksha Manch, Print

2) Roy SC (2010) The Mundas and Their Country. Ranchi, 4th Reprint.

3) Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Munda_people

[1] “ The Munda tribe is divided into a large number of exogamous groups called kilis. According to Munda tradition, all the members of the same kili are descended from one common ancestor” (Roy. 217).

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