Sacon

Ecotoxicology

Ecotoxicology Division

Pesticides regrettably have become an indispensable tool for the Indian agriculture and public health departments for many decades now. Needless to say, the ill-effects out weigh the benefits. Thus virtually there is no produce or ecosystem component, which is free from pesticide residues in India. Every bit of surface waters and even ground waters are contaminated with either agricultural run off or industrial effluents. Ecological disturbances caused by the pesticides and other industrial contaminants largely remain under or unreported and neither any structured contaminant monitoring system is in place in India. SACON has made a small beginning in this direction to address the issues on a national as well as local scale. While there a need to continue the work already initiated, the scope has to be enhanced as new problems keep emerging not only because of pesticides, but also due to other group of contaminants such as PCBs, PAHs, metals and drugs.

 

Impact of contaminants on Indian avifauna

Population of several species of birds including a few so-called common birds, have been on the decline. While there are many reasons postulated, the role of agricultural practices and change in land use pattern has undoubtedly contributed for the present situation. Wildlife mortality, particularly of birds due to pesticide poisoning has become rampant. Sarus Crane, Peafowl, Great Indian Bustard, Demoiselle Crane are a few notable victims. Our research over the years has confirmed several instances of pesticide poisoning and documented varying magnitude of contamination in more than 100 species of birds. Despite the ban on many persistent pesticides, residue levels of certain pesticides in many species of birds are of concern. Hence, we have initiated various programms to monitor the levels of Persistent Organic Pollutants (PoPs) and assess their impact on the ecosystem with special reference to fishes and birds.

 

Contamination profile of Indian wetlands

Agricultural runoff loaded with chemicals of assorted sorts find way in to wetlands, the aquatic wealth of our country. Eutrophication and accumulation of chemicals in aquatic organisms slowly deteriorate the system and lead to ecological succession. Fishes due to their position in the aquatic food chain and their nutritive value are considered to be better indicator of wetland contamination than other inhabitants. Our research on 64 species of fishes from many wetlands across the nation reveals, not a single individual to be free from chemical residues while several of them were not safe for human consumption. Scenario on the marine fishes was not much different. Hence it is very imperative to have monitoring system in place to understand the levels of problem chemicals in the environment using indicator organisms such as fishes.

The division Ecotoxicology also addresses issues at local level. Pesticide contamination in the Nilgiris district with special reference to select Avifauna, Are commercially important marine and freshwater fishes available at Coimbatore safe for human consumption? Feathers as tool to monitor heavy metal contamination, Impact of Agricultural Pesticides on the population status and breeding success of select species of fish eating birds in Tamil Nadu, Surveillance of waterfowl at Nalabana Bird Sanctuary, Chilika Lake, Orissa, Monitoring of pesticides residues in select components of an agro ecosystem adopting organic and chemical forming in Palakkad dt. are some of our recent / ongoing studies. While such local issues assume significance in terms of conservation, there is a greater need to identify and spread similar studies on a larger landscape level.

 

Biomarkers

Cytochrome P450, Glutathione, Metallothionein, Acetyl and butyl acetylcholinesterase are some of the biomarkers which are reported to be better markers of environmental contamination in European and North American countries. In India although some information is available on the use of such biochemical parameters on contaminants related studies, the status is far from desired. Hence, there is lot scope for future research in this branch of Ecotoxicology which gives early warning signals.

 

Avian disease

Mortality of birds in wetland habitats in India due to disease has been rampant off late. Classic example is the episode in Nalabana Sanctutary, Chilika Lake where 100s of ducks died due to Fowl Cholera caused by pasteurella multocida. Hence this is yet another area of our interest.

 

The infrastructure

The division of Ecotoxicology is equipped with analytical instruments such as Atomic Absorption Spectrophotometer, Graphite Furnace AAS, Gas Chromatograph, High Performance Liquid Chromatograph, UV-Vis Spectrophotometer and Ultra centrifuge. Facility with ultra deep freezer, walk-in cold room and ample working space offer wonderful research environment for students.

Scientist

Dr. S.Muralidharan

Designation : Senior Principal Scientist

Contact :  ecot_mur@yahoo.com, muralidharan.s@sacon.in

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