A study on the distribution and dynamics of Phyllanthus species (Indian Gooseberry or Amla) in Sathyamangalam Forest Division (SFD) was conducted by Care Earth in 2009. During the course of study, permanent plots were established to monitor the dynamics of this species for a longer period of time. A key output of the study was the need  to evolve a protocol for the  sustainable harvesting of this species.

One of the most important findings of the study includes the presence of two species of Phyllanthus in SFD, namely Phyllanthus indofischeri and Phyllanthus emblica. Although both the species co-exist in the SFD, the density of P.emblica is less in comparison to P.indofischeri. The contributing factor to this difference is that P.indofischeri is an endemic tree to south India restricting its distribution to the hill forests of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

The endemicity of the species and the high fluctuation rates in the harvest observed in the study areas during the previous years reiterates the necessity for sustainable harvesting of the species. Phyllanthus fruit is highly valued in India for its medicinal properties. It is also widely used across the cosmetic industry for various purposes. The Amla fruits are an important feeding preference for the frugivores like Chital, Mouse Deer, Barking Deer, and Four-horned Antelope in the landscape. For instance, during summer when other food resources are scarce, Chitals depend largely on these wild fruits like Amla.

When there is an over harvest of these wild fruits, there is a cycle that we are trying to break here. The contributing reasons to this phenomenon are as follows. The frugivores that consume the fruits play a major part in the dispersal of seeds. Therefore, when there is no fruit left for them for consumption, it indirectly decreases the diversity of these frugivory animals and birds which in turn influences the patterns of seed distribution thereby placing a major question mark over the population structure of the phyllanthus species that exists in the forest. The study also revealed that the presence of a stream inside a particular plot that invited more herbivore within. This promoted a considerably positive recruitment of the Amla trees.

All these factors call for an immediate need for conservation guidelines to be prepared for sustainable harvest of amla fruits. This can be achieved through simple measures like leaving a proportion of fruits on the tree so that regeneration occurs through the seed dispersal by frugivores. Also a certain population can be left untouched from fruit harvest to prevent ecological imbalance. Training programmes on harvest technology and also alternative methods of harvesting like the use of wirenet to protect the fruits from damage would help sustainability of the Phyllanthus tree species considerably.

The overuse of anything comes at a cost, however abundant it may seem in the beginning. We live in an age where there is an increased awareness about conservation of forest resources. Keeping the idea of conservation apart, one thing that none of us can deny is our dependence on it. Therefore timely efforts made to minimise these ecological costs will play a vital role in larger conservation goals, also contributing to sustainable livelihoods of the people depending on these resources.

The author Maithreyi Kamalanathan is a Documentation intern at Care Earth and also a student of journalism and communication with a keen interest on documenting issues related to human-wildlife conflicts.