Anything and everything in excess destabilizes the balance of nature. Wind energy is considered to be green but unfortunately there is no policy regulation on how many windmills a landscape can sustain. This might turn out to be hazardous in future and definitely raises a question on its sustainability. Windmills have changed the area around Satara in Maharashtra dramatically. Asia’s largest wind farm is located in and around the Chalkewadi plateau in the northern Western Ghats. The lateritic rocks of the region are broken down to construct more windmills and other structures that accompany them. This photo story is about this unique ecosystem, the biodiversity that survives on these isolated plateau islands and the conservation issues associated with it.


 
Islands: land surrounded by water. Islands: isolated, connected, diverse, unique, threatened. Islands can be found in unexpected places. 

Islands: land surrounded by water. Islands: isolated, connected, diverse, unique, threatened. Islands can be found in unexpected places. 

Lateritic soils are rich in aluminium and iron. Rocks on the Chalkewadi plateau, in the Satara district, show typical signs of weathering with the reddish tinges formed by rusting iron.

Lateritic soils are rich in aluminium and iron. Rocks on the Chalkewadi plateau, in the Satara district, show typical signs of weathering with the reddish tinges formed by rusting iron.

Although rich in geological history, the barren plateau-islands, burnt and desolate in the harsh May sun seem devoid of any signs of wildlife. Could anything survive here?

Although rich in geological history, the barren plateau-islands, burnt and desolate in the harsh May sun seem devoid of any signs of wildlife. Could anything survive here?

Or should we be looking in the lush evergreen forests of the adjacent Koyna Tiger Reserve?

Or should we be looking in the lush evergreen forests of the adjacent Koyna Tiger Reserve?

The sun may drive all other animals but the fan throated lizards (Sitana ponticeriana) revel on the bare rocks. An ideal arena for flamboyant males to display their colourful dewlap sacs and attract females.

The sun may drive all other animals but the fan throated lizards (Sitana ponticeriana) revel on the bare rocks. An ideal arena for flamboyant males to display their colourful dewlap sacs and attract females.

The heat lays the plateau bare, but beneath the rocks reptiles thrive. A Hemidactylus satarensis gecko, waiting under the rocks biding its time till the sun goes down.

The heat lays the plateau bare, but beneath the rocks reptiles thrive. A Hemidactylus satarensis gecko, waiting under the rocks biding its time till the sun goes down.

The deadly saw scaled viper (Echis carinatus), holds the distinction of having the quickest strike rate of all Indian snake species.  The midday sun leaves the animal even more irritable.

The deadly saw scaled viper (Echis carinatus), holds the distinction of having the quickest strike rate of all Indian snake species.  The midday sun leaves the animal even more irritable.

Animals from the adjacent Sahyadri range often spill onto the plateau. The bamboo pit viper (Trimeresurus gramineus) rests on the barren tree,  waiting for night to fall.

Animals from the adjacent Sahyadri range often spill onto the plateau. The bamboo pit viper (Trimeresurus gramineus) rests on the barren tree,  waiting for night to fall.

In the cool of the night Indian foxes (Vulpes bengalensis) make it out of their dens. A curious fox cub looks out of the plateau at night.

In the cool of the night Indian foxes (Vulpes bengalensis) make it out of their dens. A curious fox cub looks out of the plateau at night.

No man is an island, but each plateau is one. Hemidactylus satarensis is a classic example of plateaus catalyzing speciation. This rare species is endemic to Chalkewadi plateau.

No man is an island, but each plateau is one. Hemidactylus satarensis is a classic example of plateaus catalyzing speciation. This rare species is endemic to Chalkewadi plateau.

As hot days turn into cool nights, summers make way for monsoon. Fireflies signify the onset of the rains. Before the season of plenty, these beetles use bio-luminescence to call out to potential mates.

As hot days turn into cool nights, summers make way for monsoon. Fireflies signify the onset of the rains. Before the season of plenty, these beetles use bio-luminescence to call out to potential mates.

With the beginning of June, the monsoon clouds make their way over the plateau. The first rains end the drought of the plateau. Transformed by the rain, small pools begin to appear on around the rocks

With the beginning of June, the monsoon clouds make their way over the plateau. The first rains end the drought of the plateau. Transformed by the rain, small pools begin to appear on around the rocks

Several other species await discovery and a name. These frogs of the Zakerana genus,  most likely unidentified have only been encountered on this plateau.

Several other species await discovery and a name. These frogs of the Zakerana genus,  most likely unidentified have only been encountered on this plateau.

The cat snake Boiga beddomei endemic to the Western Ghats, often visits the plateau during the rains to make a good meal of frogs.

The cat snake Boiga beddomei endemic to the Western Ghats, often visits the plateau during the rains to make a good meal of frogs.

Crabs such as these remain dormant in the dry summer season. With the first rains, they emerge to feed and breed around these temporary pools.

Crabs such as these remain dormant in the dry summer season. With the first rains, they emerge to feed and breed around these temporary pools.

The most dramatic change however are the windmills in the Satara region. Asia’s largest wind farm is located in and around the Chalkewadi plateau.

The most dramatic change however are the windmills in the Satara region. Asia’s largest wind farm is located in and around the Chalkewadi plateau.

Aponogeton satarensis is an endemic aquatic plant known only from five temporary pools around the Kaas area. One of these pools has today disappeared, replaced by a windmill. Discovered and lost at the same time.

Aponogeton satarensis is an endemic aquatic plant known only from five temporary pools around the Kaas area. One of these pools has today disappeared, replaced by a windmill. Discovered and lost at the same time.

Even the ubiquitous sitanas cannot escape their onslaught.

Even the ubiquitous sitanas cannot escape their onslaught.

A Green Bee-eater lies dead, most likely a victim of the windmills situated nearby. Because very few studies have been undertaken in India, we do not know the real extent of the impact of windmills on bird and bat populations.

A Green Bee-eater lies dead, most likely a victim of the windmills situated nearby. Because very few studies have been undertaken in India, we do not know the real extent of the impact of windmills on bird and bat populations.

Most drastic effect of these windmills can be seen on these charismatic lizard species. Researchers from Dr Thaker’s lab at the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Bangalore have found that wind-farms result in a decrease in raptor densities which in turn results in an increase lizard abundances. Interestingly, they also find that the lower levels of predation in wind-farms also result in a change in the physiology, morphology and behaviour of the lizards, seemingly accelerating the process of trait divergence in less than two decades. With the anthropogenic changes happening rapidly, the story of these islands may have to be retold once again in the coming years !!  

Most drastic effect of these windmills can be seen on these charismatic lizard species. Researchers from Dr Thaker’s lab at the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Bangalore have found that wind-farms result in a decrease in raptor densities which in turn results in an increase lizard abundances. Interestingly, they also find that the lower levels of predation in wind-farms also result in a change in the physiology, morphology and behaviour of the lizards, seemingly accelerating the process of trait divergence in less than two decades.

With the anthropogenic changes happening rapidly, the story of these islands may have to be retold once again in the coming years !!  

Photographer : Prasenjeet Yadav

Writer : Bhanu Sridharan

Scientist : Amod Zambre

The story was first published in Seavus magazine in 2013

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