We are all into it

Lantana camara undergrowth in the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve


We recently have published a paper: ‘Point intercept method for estimating biomass of invasive lantana (Lantana camara) in the Nilgiris, India’ in the Indian Forester (here). This paper is part of our student Muneer Ul Islam Najar’s Ph.D. thesis on the population dynamics of lantana in the Nilgiris Plateau.

I was astonished by the number of request for this paper. This study represents a good effort to estimate biomass with a bizarre method: it consist in counting the number of contacts a vertical pin will make with the plant in several sampling places. The number of contacts is proportional to the plant’s biomass as shown in this study. This method, quite cumbersome, can be used to estimate the degree of infestation of an area. There are other methods based on allometry (plant proportions) for example.

The interest in any publication on lantana is understandable. Lantana is originally from Central America and had invaded the jungles of India. Consequently, many people are interested in lantana, including us. A reaction we often get when we start with a conservation question is: “so and so is doing the same thing”. To be translated into: “why do you bother at all since someone else is already working on the problem?” Many students get cold feet when they hear such feedback and abandon their ambitions. In many ways, the question is valid: why reproduce someone else’s work? Science proceeds rapidly, it is better to focus on discoveries. Conservation moreover, does not receive a lot of money from governments and it is crucial to be effective. But science needs competition, conservation must have different voices and management often requires site-specific information. The chance of being totally redundant is consequently small.

Are we going to resolve the lantana invasion with this research? No. However, Muneer needed to measure the degree of infestation and he did it by exploring a new method. He also realized that in the Nilgiris, tree plantations, if managed properly, could become less infested. A student trained in plant population dynamics and new suggestions to planters and the Forest Department make a modest but useful contribution to a better environment management. So why not do it?

Jean-Philippe Puyravaud