Two-hundred year changes in plant-species composition: A case study of Madras city in the coromandel coast, peninsular India

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Peter Johann Rottler [1749-1836] came from Strasbourg (Alsace) and joined the Tranquebar Mission in the Coromandel (Çozhamandalam) in peninsular India in 1776. During his stay here, he pursued the plants of this region driven by his passion to know medicinal plants. On a road trip from Tranquebar northwards to Madras and back, Rottler collected plants, and this plant-collection activity has been scientifically documented in a paper entitled Botanische Bemerkungen auf der Hin- und Rückreise von Trankenbar nach Madras vom Herrn Missionair Rottler zu Trankenbar mit anmerkungen von Professor C.L. Willdenow published in the Gesellschaft Naturforschender Freunde zu Berlin [Neue Schriften] in 1803. Using the information available in this article, we have compared Madras-city vegetation with data extracted from two Madras-flora volumes published in 1929 and 1994, thus highlighting the plants of Madras in the eighteenth century. We the authors of the present article bring to light the changes that have occurred in the last 200 years in terms of loss of species, by verifying changes to plant-species composition in Madras city and its immediate neighbourhood, and relate the reasons for these changes. Between 1803 and 1929, maximum species loss had occurred. Of the 81 species (80 to be precise, because of species synonymy in recent times) species recorded in 1803, only 33 exist in the 1929 record, indicating loss of 47 taxa. Between 1929 and 1994, besides the 33 reported in 1929, ten 'new' additional taxa were recorded. As of today, the loss of economically important plants such as Mimosa chundra (Mimosaceae) and Costus speciosus (Zingiberaceae) appears irreversible and is discomforting, whereas the continued existence of the 'sensitive' taxon Habenaria viridiflora (Orchidaceae) is comforting.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)205-214
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Ecology and Environmental Sciences
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2010


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