Ecological Niche Modelling : Daily Current Affairs

Date: 19/09/2022

Relevance: GS-3: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.

Key Phrases: Ecological niche, Environmental conditions, Biodiversity, Biogeographic niches, Community, Food and nutrients, Temperature, Soil moisture, Ecological niche modelling, Global resources, Saffron cultivation, Karewa, Globally Important Agricultural Heritage systems.

Why in News?

  • Ecological niche modelling helps to find new inhabitants for existing habitats.


  • An ecological niche is the right set of environmental conditions under which an animal or plant species will thrive. A range of ecological niches can occur within an ecosystem.
  • Biodiversity is the result of these niches being occupied by species that are uniquely suited to them. Desert plants, for example, are suited for dry, arid ecological niches because they have the ability to store water in their leaves.
  • As the world's climate changes, the ability of existing species to hold on to their biogeographic niches may be altered.
  • This has an important bearing on agriculture, as practices and crop choices that have worked well for centuries may no longer be ideal.
  • In ecology, the term “niche” describes the role an organism plays in a community. A species' niche encompasses both the physical and environmental conditions it requires (like temperature or terrain) and the interactions it has with other species (like predation or competition).

Factors that affect ecological niches:

  • Factors that affect ecological niches can be biotic or non-living, or abiotic. It includes
    • The availability of food and nutrients,
    • Occurrence of predators and competing species,
    • Temperature,
    • Amount of available light,
    • Soil moisture, and so on.

Ecological niche modelling:

  • Ecologists use niche information for conservation efforts as well as for future developments. However, ecological considerations may not correlate well with economic realities.
  • To bridge these two viewpoints, ecological niche modelling can be used to examine economic feasibilities within the context of changing ecological scenarios.
  • Ecological niche modelling is a predictive tool for identifying new possibilities. like.
    • New inhabitants for an existing habitat.
    • New geographical locations where a desirable plant may grow well.
  • The modelling involves the use of computer algorithms to compare data about the environment and to make forecasts about what would be ideal for a given ecological niche.

Ecological niche model:

  • Ecological niche models (ENMs) aim to recreate the relationships between species and the environments where they occur and allow us to identify unexplored areas in geography where these species might be present.

Case study of Ecological niche modelling:

  • A recent paper highlights the uses that ecological niche modelling can be put within the context of India’s geographies and agricultural economics.
  • Researchers at the Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology, Palampur, Himachal Pradesh used modelling strategies to examine the economically important spice, saffron.
  • For big data, the authors of the Indian study combined their efforts with openly available global resources.
  • Areas of saffron cultivation in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand were compared with 449 locations of saffron cultivation in different parts of the world as documented by the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.
  • The study identified 4,200 square kilometres of new areas suitable for saffron cultivation in places in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, North Sikkim, Imphal, Manipur and Udagamandalam, Tamil Nadu.
  • Field trials over two seasons at some of these locations obtained a saffron yield that was very close to the average national yield of 2.6 kg per hectare.


  • Saffron is a plant whose dried stigmas (thread-like parts of the flower) are used to make saffron spice.
  • Crocus sativus, the saffron plant, is propagated through underground stems called corms.
  • The temperate climate of Jammu and Kashmir is well-suited with a well-drained soil of high pH value (6.3 to 8.3), summer temperatures (when flowers develop) of around 25°C and good soil nutrient availability.
  • It is thought to be a native of Greece, and grows best under Mediterranean climate conditions. Saffron cultivation is believed to have been introduced in Kashmir by Central Asian immigrants around the 1st Century BCE.
  • It is cultivated and harvested in the Karewa (highlands) of Jammu and Kashmir.
  • Today, Iran grows nearly 90% of the world’s saffron.
  • The flower of the plant has three bright crimson stigmata, which are handpicked when ready and carefully dried for the commercial saffron. Besides adding flavour to food, saffron has many other uses.
  • Some of its chemical constituents have been shown to possess anti-cancer properties.
  • India produces 5% of the world’s saffron. Historically, some of the world’s most prized saffron has been grown in old lake beds of Kashmir.
  • Pampore region, in India, commonly known as Saffron bowl of Kashmir, is the main contributor to saffron production.
  • It is one of the Globally Important Agricultural Heritage systems (GIAHS) recognised sites in India.
  • It has been associated with traditional Kashmiri cuisine and represents the rich cultural heritage of the region.

Source: The Hindu

Mains Question:

Q. “Ecological niche modelling can help find solutions to the challenges faced by agriculture crop in India.” Discuss.