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 Tuesday, 21 January, 2003, 18:35 GMT
Insect plagues India's 'tree of life'
Derolus discicollis Gahen. Male left.
Indiscriminate felling has aided the insects

An insect that originates in Pakistan's southern Sindh province has crossed the border and is making India's ''tree of life'' distinctly sick.

The insect, Derolus discicollis Gahen, is infecting the Khejri tree (Prosopis cineraria) across Rajasthan state.

The Khejri is often described as Rajasthan's tree of life for its ability to survive in the dry, harsh climate.

Scientists say the insect has had a devastating effect on Khejri trees in four districts of north-western Rajasthan.

Greatly valued

Drought in Rajasthan
The Khejri can withstand Rajasthan droughts
SI Ahmed, head of forest protection at the Arid Forest Research Institute (Afri) in Jodhpur, said thousands of trees had been infected.

The insect is believed to have resurfaced in the state's Thar desert after a gap of nearly 100 years.

The Khejri is greatly valued by the state's people for firewood, fodder and sometimes food.

Botanists believe the problem has become serious over the past few years because of the indiscriminate felling of trees.

Felling plea

Mr Ahmed said the insect infected the trees by laying eggs on freshly lopped top portions of shoots and branches.

The larvae then destroy the plant tissues of the main branches and stems.

Women collect water at a well in Rajasthan
The toll on the water table has worsened matters
The insect larvae also damage the sap of the tree by causing long incisions, followed by fungal infection that dries the trees from the top.

But scientists say there are other reasons for the Khejri's decline.

Among them is a rapidly falling water table because of an ever-increasing demand.

The scientists recommend a year's gap in felling Khejri trees to allow them time to recover.

University professor AK Chhangani warns that the problem faced by the otherwise resilient Khejri tree could spread to other desert species unless care is taken.

See also:

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