International Day for Biological Diversity – Let’s explore Biodiversity

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Today – May 22, is the International Day of Biological Diversity. Your friends Puncha and Panchi visit the Sinharaja Rainforest on this special day with their Guide Uncle. Puncha knew rainforests are home to many creatures, and expected to see many large animals such as elephant and deer. But other than a few birds, they didn’t seen many in the first few minutes.

Large Hump-nosed Lizard seen in Sinharaja

“Guide Uncle.. Why aren’t there many animals in this rainforest..? Our school teacher said Sinharaja is full of different animals,” Puncha asked the Guide Uncle accompanying them on the Sinharaja trail.

“Yeah.. Aiya, can you remember our trip to Yala last year..? We saw lots more animals, in Yala than here in Sinharaja”, Panchi too agreed with Aiya – something that rarely happens.

“Well, well…” The Guide Uncle wanted to prove the rainforest too was home to many unique animals. He called Puncha to help him to lift a rock near a little stream. “Eekke.. What is this..?” Puncha quickly jumped back dropping the rock. Luckily Guide Uncle who was now smiling managed to catch the slipping rock.

“It is a little frog..!!” Panchi recognized the little creature that jumped towards Puncha. “Yes, this tiny frog can be seen only in these kind of forests,” Guide Uncle explained. “Look.. look.. Somebody just ran behind this tree,” Panchi didn’t allow Uncle to finish.

Looking at the tree carefully, Guide Uncle showed them the large lizard. “Nangi, you scared him,” Puncha complained. “He has a hump on its nose and is different to the katussa (lizard) seen in our
garden,” Puncha said, comparing the two. “Yes, this lizard is different to the common katussa we find in our gardens. Both are lizards, but they are different from one another – so we call them different species.

For example, we have 111 different frogs in Sri Lanka.”“That is Biodiversity,” Puncha remembered something he learnt at school. “Well, that is the Species Diversity or Diversity among creatures. Another thing that is diverse (or different) in the natural world, is the difference in Ecosystems. Ecosystems are like nature families. In each ecosystem, plants and animals depend on the weather, the type of earth, the amount of water and on other living things around them. They need each other to survive”.

“Sinharaja rainforest is one ecosystem, while Yala is another – right Uncle..?” Puncha asked. “Yes, that is right. Though both are forests, Sinharaja is a rainforest while Yala is a dry evergreen forest,” Guide Uncle explained. “In rainforests, you find the richest animal diversity,” Guide Uncle further explained.

“But we haven’t seen even elephants or leopards here Uncle – there were plenty in Yala,” Panchi had a query. “Well, different animals live in different ecosystems. Leopards and Elephants are important too, but the most important are the endemic animals and plants that are found only in our country. Rainforests are full of such endemic plants and animals.

For example 92 of the frogs found in Sri Lanka are Endemic and many of them are living in rainforests”.
“Oh… and most of these valued biodiversity are small creatures that we need to go in search of ,” Puncha too was now getting the point.

“Kids, do you know about genes..?” Guide Uncle asked suddenly. “Genes are the element that decide how our body looks like” Panchi was quick to answer laughingly pointing out the difference between Panchi’s pointed nose and Guide Uncle’s flattened nose.

“Yes – Inside every cell of each living thing – plant or animal – are sets of instructions called genes. The genes provide the instructions on what is the plant or animal, what it looks like, how it is to survive, and how it will interact with its surrounding environment. These genes are different even among animals of the same family, so we called it the Genetic Diversity,”“So SPECIES DIVERSITY, ECOSYTEM DIVERSITY and GENETIC DIVERSITY, are collectively defined as BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY,” Guide Uncle finally gave the answer to the question “What is Biodiversity?”

“In short we call it BIODIVERSITY,” both Puncha and Panchi shouted happily, walking forward in the Sinharaja forest looking for more unique creatures..!!

Published on SundayTimes on 22.05.2011 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/110522/FunDay/fut_08.html | written by Malaka Rodrigo

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