Of how a city lives and breathes – Deccan Herald

In the dizzying maze of the concrete cityscape, one would hardly expect plants, trees and animals to thrive. When we think of wildlife, lush green thickets where animals stalk, trot and hunt, come to mind. 
But unnoticed in the humdrum of city life, urban spaces teem with life — from the bees that pollinate urban gardens to the birds that nest in the eaves of buildings and trees that populate roadsides. 
Many animals have found a way to adapt to cities, even if cities are yet to learn to accommodate animals. 
Solitary bees, for example, are one of many species that have made cities their homes, explains Soubadra Devy of Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment. 
“Urban spaces might support more species of bees than rural areas. This is because farms generally have monoculture plants,” she says. The popularity of flowering plants and their variety in urban gardens may support solitary bees like carpenter and leafcutting bees. 
Particularly for growing vegetables, bees are essential. As cities continue to expand, vertical farming, hydroponics and terrace gardens are only poised to become more common. “This would supplement our food security and reduce our reliance on rural hinterlands. Growing local produce also drastically reduces the carbon footprint,” Devy says. 
“Just sitting on my balcony, I was able to document 12 different species of bees,” says Chandu Bandi, a software engineer by profession and naturalist by hobby. His observations led him to the discovery that bees live in the crevices of wood, soil and rock, and not just hives.  Some researchers have even come forward to make bee hotels in city gardens so these species can find shelter easily. 
Then there are the butterflies. In flight with their coloured, gossamer wings, butterflies not only help with pollination, but also bring to backyards a quiet joy when observed. Even rare butterflies like the lilac silverline are city residents. The species was rediscovered after 120 years in 2012 near Hesaraghatta Lake. The lake and its surroundings host one of the only known stable populations of the butterfly. 
The area is also home to the lesser florican, an endangered bird species which was also rediscovered here after 100 years. Sightings of rare birds like the Egyptian vulture, steppe eagle, spotted eagles, and the amphibian Sholiga narrow-mouthed frog are no less remarkable in the grasslands.
Link to conservation
As city residents delight in the sight of butterflies and birds, they are likely to invest time and energy in conservation efforts. “Conserving butterflies includes preserving their host plants and greenery,” Devy says. There are about 180 species of butterflies that can be spotted in Bengaluru.
In addition, about 340 to 350 species of birds can be found in the city. A third of these species are commonly occurring or have made the city their homes, explains M B Krishna, an ecologist and ornithologist. “Birds are not just a component in the food chain but add cheer and colour to the city. They add life to their surroundings,” he says.  
Birds also sound vital alarms about ecosystems. In the past, instances of mercury and DDT poisoning came to light because of extensive bird deaths in the area, explains Krishna. 
Another unexpected species to reside in tree canopies is the slender loris (Loris tardigradus). The small, nocturnal primate species is native to the forests of southern India, including the city of Bengaluru. “They are usually found near the Indian Institute of Sciences (IISc) campus. But their population has grown increasingly isolated due to fragmentation of green spaces,” says urban ecologist H S Sudhira.  
Habitat loss is one of the main threats to the slender loris population in Bengaluru. This has left them with less space to live and forage and has also affected their genetic diversity.
“The primates mostly move through tree canopies. Tree loss and fragmentation of green spaces has affected the loris population,” says Vidisha Kulkarni, a member of the Urban Slender Loris Project, which worked to study the primates until 2017. She estimated that the IISc campus and its surrounding areas may house about 50 lorises. 
But it is not just crowns of trees that host animals, even the small ditches on the side of roads brim with life. Common species of frogs make these temporary pools their homes, explains frog researcher Vineeth Kumar. “Some frogs have adapted to low water use, which allows them to live in cities,” he says. 
In fact, in 2020, a new species of burrowing frog was discovered in Bengaluru. It was aptly christened Sphaerotheca bengaluru. Frog populations are crucial to metropolises. “Many insects are carriers of diseases. Frogs perform the important role of pest control,” Vineeth adds. 
Impact on humans
The urban ecosystem is much denser than we can imagine and the existence of green spaces is requisite to all species — including humans. Studies have found that people who live in neighbourhoods with more green spaces have lower levels of stress hormones and report better mental health outcomes. 
Rekha Ganeshan, a resident of Bengaluru who frequents Cubbon Park, says that under the canopies that resound with the songs of birds, “spending a day means unwinding. It feels like meditation.” 
There is also a larger, more philosophical reason to spend time in observation, explains Bandi. “It humbles me. So much is happening around us, just in our backyards. There are moths laying eggs in the karbevinsoppu gida (curry leaf plant). Different trees host different insects and birds,” he says. Spending time learning about them only inspires more curiosity.  
A varied ecosystem also means that there is balance in the types of bacteria present in the environment. The lack of a balanced environment can result in increased exposure to pathogenic bacteria and reduced exposure to beneficial bacteria.
Exposure to a diverse range of micro-organisms in early childhood can help prevent allergies, asthma and other immune-related disorders. 
While coexistence looks different in an urban ecosystem, every role that animals, plants, trees and insects play is crucial. “Rather than seeing our relationship with these creatures as transactional, we should understand that we share this space — it is as much theirs as it is ours,” Rekha says. 
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