Online Content for Experiential Learning of Tropical Systems


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Between a rock and a hard place. What can turning rocks tell us about land-use change impacts on animals living in a rock outcrop?

Author(s): Vijayan Jithin1, Aparna Watve2

1. Nature Conservation Foundation, India 2. Bombay Environmental Action Group, India

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Unique rock outcrops in the Western Ghats biodiversity hotspot in India provide a setting that challenges students to develop a study to assess the impact of land-use change on threatened animals within the context of a socio-ecological scenario.


     In this online module, students learn about how the movement of large rocks as part of agricultural land use changes in a natural rock outcrop are affecting rock-dwelling fauna. This case study incorporates data-driven activities that are based on research in India, from the Western Ghats-Sri Lanka biodiversity hot spot. The teaching guide helps instructors and students design a study and analyze data to create conservation strategies within a unique socio-ecological scenario. Student will use data from time-constrained searches for rock-dwelling animals across land-use types, and quantify how microhabitat availability and animal abundance are impacted by human disturbance. Exposure to the human-nature relationships and conservation issues in this under-studied tropical habitat is one of the highlights.

     The tropics are undergoing large-scale land-use change, especially for the purpose of meeting agricultural requirements. Understanding how this impacts biodiversity is important, especially in under-appreciated open ecosystems such as rock outcrops, which are home for many threatened species. In this module we evaluate how the movement of large rocks from the natural rock outcrop for rice paddy cultivation and subsequent abandonment, and orchard plantations are affecting rock-dwelling fauna. This case study demonstrates that agricultural land-use changes can affect the microhabitat availability (large rocks in this case), and change the animal occurrence. The study also shows that, depending on the type of land-use change, one particular endemic animal may benefit from the change, while others are negatively impacted, highlighting the context-specificity in species responses. This is one of the first studies to determine the impacts of agricultural conversion of rock outcrops, thereby emphasizing the conservation value of habitats that are often classified as wastelands. Let's explore under the rocks!

Learning Objectives:

  1. Describe the ecology and human-nature relationship in a tropical rock outcrop system.
  2. Quantify the rock availability and rock- dwelling animal prevalence across various land-use types
  3. Use rock-turning data to assess the impact of land-use change on the species occurrence.
  4. Integrate research results in creating conservation measures suggestions in a threatened habitat.


Support was provided by: A grant from the United States National Science Foundation (DBI-RCN-UBE 2120141).


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