Reviving the rainforest

Ecological restoration of degraded rainforest in the Anamalai hills

Can a biologically diverse forest, once degraded or destroyed, be brought back to its original state? Relatively undisturbed forests are best left alone, rather than modified in the belief that they can be restored. Yet, forests already degraded or fragmented may be worth restoring, as in the Anamalai hills.

  • Restored rainforest fragment surrounded by tea plantations

  • Remnant rainforest fragment in the Anamalai hills

  • Rainforest canopy

  • Anamalai rainforest plant nursery

  • Ormosia travancorica seeds in polybags at the nursery

Fixing fragmented forests

Our restoration programme in the Western Ghats focuses on the region’s unique, biologically diverse tropical rainforests. Historically, due to human activities, these forests have been cleared, degraded, or reduced to fragments scattered like islands amidst towns and cities, dams and mines, farms and plantations.  A growing body of field research, including our own, suggests that remnant rainforests cannot be conserved through protection alone. One also needs to restore degraded lands to improve habitat quality to enable the survival of threatened species that live within these forest patches and to reconnect existing patches, if possible, to enhance the entire conservation landscape.

Restoration and recovery

Since 2001, we have worked in the Valparai plateau, Anamalai hills, to ecologically restore ten rainforest fragments (1 to 100 ha in area), three sites contiguous with the Anamalai Tiger Reserve, and a perennial stream flowing through tea plantation. The sites are identified and protected in partnership with the plantation companies (Parry Agro Industries Ltd, Tata Coffee Ltd, Tea Estates India Ltd–earlier Hindustan Unilever Ltd) and the Tamil Nadu Forest Department. While the sites occupy around 300 ha, restoration plantings targeted 45 plots (50 ha) in the most degraded portions, especially fragment edges. In these sites, we have planted 26,500 saplings of over 160 native rainforest tree (and some liana) species.Early monitoring showed that an average of 61% of the planted saplings survived at the end of two years. As these sapling establish along with resurgent natural vegetation, the fragments are on the road to recovery. Visit our Rainforest Restoration Project Showcase to see more.

Native shade trees in plantations

Restoration of rainforest fragments can be complemented by efforts to improve land-use practices and increase native tree cover in surrounding plantations. A large number of native tree species hold potential for use as shade trees in plantations, but have been overlooked or rarely tried out. Using saplings from our rainforest plant nursery at Valparai, plantation companies in the Anamalai hills have planted nearly 15,000 saplings of around 60 native tree species since 2004. A number of species, planted out as shade in coffee, cardamom, tea, and vanilla plantations have established well, some even doing better than commonly used alien species such as silver oak.



  • Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation Ltd
  • Parry Agro Industries Ltd
  • Tata Coffee Ltd
  • Tea Estates India Ltd
  • United Planters' Association of South India
  • Vattakanal Conservation Trust, Kodaikanal


  • Barakat Inc., USA
  • Conservation, Food and Health Foundation, USA
  • Ford Foundation, India
  • GEF-UNDP Small Grants Programme, India
  • IUCN Netherlands (TRP, EGP, and Ecosystem Alliance)
  • Nadathur Conservation Trust, India
  • Rohini Nilekani Philanthropies, India
  • Rufford Foundation, UK
  • Science and Engineering Research Board, Govt of India


  • Book Chapter
    Expanding nature conservation: considering wide landscapes and deep histories.
    Pages 249-267 in G. Cederlöf and M. Rangarajan (editors), 'At Nature's Edge: The Global Present and Long-Term History,' Oxford University Press, New Delhi. 331 pp.
  • Book
    Pillars of Life: Magnificent Trees of the Western Ghats
    Divya Mudappa, T R Shankar Raman, Nirupa Rao, Sartaj Ghuman
    Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysore.

    For millions of years, the forests of the Western Ghats mountains have been home to a host of extraordinary trees. These range from the peculiar conifer, Nageia, whose family origins can be traced back to the age of the dinosaurs, to the grand trees in the rudraksh family, to the jack and fig trees that occupy a familiar presence in India’s forests and countryside. This book showcases thirty remarkable tree species through beautiful illustrations and artwork. It conveys the wonder arising from the beauty, the diversity, the individuality, and magnificence of trees in the Western Ghats, and evokes a greater sensitivity to the diverse values and enrichment that trees bring to our lives.

    Foreword by Pradip Krishen
    Botanical Illustrations
    by Nirupa Rao
    by Sartaj Ghuman

    Available here:

  • Journal Article
    Understanding perceptions of people towards lion-tailed macaques in a fragmented landscape of the Anamalai Hills, Western Ghats, India
    Primate Conservation 32: 11 pp.

    PDF, 2.24 MB

    The fragmentation of the rainforests of India’s Western Ghats mountains has left the endemic lion-tailed macaque sur- viving in numerous forest patches in a mosaic of commercial tea and coffee plantations. On the Valparai Plateau, Anamalai Hills, some macaque groups have evidently altered their behavior, becoming habituated to people, suffering from frequent roadkill, and facing problems related to people feeding them and their use of open waste dumps. We carried out a questionnaire survey around three rainforest fragments (Puthuthottam, Korangumudi, Old Valparai) and the town of Valparai to understand people’s percep- tions towards macaques, and to identify appropriate conflict-mitigation measures. Macaques near Korangumudi and Old Valparai rarely ventured near residences, and most people were unaware of their presence. Respondents in and around Puthuthottam were aware of the macaques, and most (68%) had negative perceptions of them because the macaques often visited houses in the area. Most respondents (87%) believed that macaques visited houses in search of food and garbage, and 84% reported that macaques were doing this only over the last 10 years. Housing conditions influenced people's perceptions: people living in tiled-roof houses that were vulnerable to incursions by the macaques had higher negative perceptions (84.5%) compared to people living in asbestos-roof and concrete structures. To reduce negative interactions with people and promote harmonious human-macaque co-existence, we suggest implementing a combination of measures that would involve plantation management, conservation orga- nizations, and the state forest and municipal authorities. The measures include cost-effective monkey-proofing of houses, regular garbage collection, preventing open waste disposal and the feeding of macaques, mitigating the effects of roads, and promoting people’s awareness, rainforest restoration, and the use of native shade trees in plantations.

  • Journal Article
    Whose habitat is it anyway? Role of natural and anthropogenic habitats in conservation of charismatic species
    Tropical Conservation Science 11: 1-5.

    PDF, 493 KB

    Developmental activities have been one of the major drivers of conversion of natural forest areas into mosaics of forest fragments, agriculture, and plantations, threatening the existence of wildlife species in such altered landscapes. Most conservation research and actions are protected area centric and seldom addresses the importance of landscape matrices around these protected areas in providing habitats to a wide range of species. In this article, we bring out the crucial role of natural and anthropogenic habitats for the existence of three charismatic species, namely, Asian elephants, leopard, and lion-tailed macaques. The larger public perception of where the animals should be and where the animals actually are is also discussed. We emphasize that, while habitat generalists often adapt behaviorally and ecologically to modified landscapes, habitat specialists, such as the lion-tailed macaques could find survival harder, with increasing anthropogenic pressures and loss of their habitats.

  • Journal Article
    Herpetofaunal survey in rainforest remnants of the Western Ghats, India
    Surendran Harikrishnan, Divya Mudappa, T R Shankar Raman
    The Herpetological Bulletin 146: 8-17.

    PDF, 3.85 MB

    We undertook amphibian and reptile surveys in six rainforest remnants of the Anamalai Hills in the Western Ghats, India. Over a two-month period, 36 species of herpetofauna were recorded from these remnants, including one species of caecilian, 19 frog species, 8 lizard species and 8 species of snake. Six species were either critically endangered or endangered. We also recorded one species of frog (Nyctibatrachus acanthodermis) outside of its type locality for the first time since its original description. The study demonstrated the presence of several threatened species of herpetofauna in these small forest remnants, the protection and restoration of which are important for the conservation of biodiversity in the Western Ghats.

  • Dataset
    Data from: Successional status, seed dispersal mode and overstorey species influence tree regeneration in tropical rain-forest fragments in Western Ghats, India
    Anand M Osuri, Dayani Chakravarthy, Divya Mudappa, T R Shankar Raman, N. Ayyappan, S. Muthuramkumar, N. Parthasarathy
    Dryad Digital Repository.

    Dataset available from the Dryad Digital Repository:

    Original Publication
    Osuri AM, Chakravarthy D, Mudappa D, Raman TRS, Ayyappan N, Muthuramkumar S, Parthasarathy N (2017) Successional status, seed dispersal mode and overstorey species influence tree regeneration in tropical rain-forest fragments in Western Ghats, India. Journal of Tropical Ecology 33(4): 270-284.

  • Journal Article
    Bats in the Ghats: Agricultural intensification reduces functional diversity and increases trait filtering in a biodiversity hotspot in India
    Claire F R Wordley, M Sankaran, Divya Mudappa, J D Altringham
    Biological Conservation 210: 48-55.

    The responses of bats to land-use change have been extensively studied in temperate zones and the neotropics, but little is known from the palaeotropics. Effective conservation in heavily-populated palaeotropical hotspots requires a better understanding of which bats can and cannot survive in human-modified landscapes. We used catching and acoustic transects to examine bat assemblages in the Western Ghats of India, and identify the species most sensitive to agricultural change. We quantified functional diversity and trait filtering of assemblages in forest fragments, tea and coffee plantations, and along rivers in tea plantations with and without forested corridors, compared to protected forests.

    Functional diversity in forest fragments and shade-grown coffee was similar to that in protected forests, but was far lower in tea plantations. Trait filtering was also strongest in tea plantations. Forested river corridors in tea plantations mitigated much of the loss of functional diversity and the trait filtering seen on rivers in tea plantations without forested corridors. The bats most vulnerable to intensive agriculture were frugivorous, large, had short broad wings, or made constant frequency echolocation calls. The last three features are characteristic of forest animal-eating species that typically take large prey, often by gleaning.

    Ongoing conservation work to restore forest fragments and retain native trees in coffee plantations should be highly beneficial for bats in this landscape. The maintenance of a mosaic landscape with sufficient patches of forest, shade-grown coffee and riparian corridors will help to maintain landscape wide functional diversity in an area dominated by tea plantations.

  • Journal Article
    Successional status, seed dispersal mode and overstorey species influence tree regeneration in tropical rain-forest fragments in Western Ghats, India
    Anand M Osuri, Dayani Chakravarthy, Divya Mudappa, T R Shankar Raman, N Ayyappan, S Muthuramkumar, N Parthasarathy
    Journal of Tropical Ecology 33: 270-284. DOI: 10.1017/S0266467417000219

    The effects of fragmentation and overstorey tree diversity on tree regeneration were assessed in tropical rain forests of the Western Ghats, India. Ninety plots were sampled for saplings (1–5 cm diameter at breast height (dbh); 5×5-m plots) and overstorey trees (>9.55 cm dbh; 20×20-m plots) within two fragments (32 ha and 18 ha) and two continuous forests. We tested the hypotheses that fragmentation and expected seed-dispersal declines (1) reduce sapling densities and species richness of all species and old-growth species, and increase recruitment of early-successional species, (2) reduce the prevalence of dispersed recruits and (3) increase influence of local overstorey on sapling densities and richness. Continuous forests and fragments had similar sapling densities and species richness overall, but density and richness of old-growth species declined by 62% and 48%, respectively, in fragments. Fragments had 39% lower densities and 24% lower richness of immigrant saplings (presumed dispersed into sites as conspecific adults were absent nearby), and immigrant densities of old-growth bird-dispersed species declined by 79%. Sapling species richness (overall and old-growth) increased with overstorey species richness in fragments, but was unrelated to overstorey richness in continuous forests. Our results show that while forest fragments retain significant sapling diversity, losses of immigrant recruits and increased overstorey influence strengthen barriers to natural regeneration of old-growth tropical rain forests.

  • Popular Article
    Hornbills: the feathered foresters.
    Mudappa, D. 2016. JLR Explore, 15 May 2016.

    Most of us are familiar with charismatic mammals such as tigers, elephants and apes. And there are charismatic species amongst birds too: bustards, cranes, eagles. But in the Asian and African tropics are birds that gain charisma from their large size, spectacular appearance, and extraordinary breeding habits: the hornbills.

    Read here:

  • Art & Literary
    Elephant crossing
    Orion 35(3): 6. (May | June 2016)

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