During the course of biodiversity assessment of the natural ecosystems of the Western Ghats (India) [Pascal 1982a, 1982b, 1982c, 1984, 1986, 1988; Pascal et al. 1988; Pelissier 1997; Ramesh & Pascal 1997; Ramesh et al. 1997a, b] where species diversity and endemism abound (Myers 1988; Nayar 1996), it became obvious that tree diversity outside the forestlands also should be assessed. This is because there is profound species diversity in the managed ecosystems of this region (Kumar and Nair 2004), as elsewhere in the tropics (e.g., Jacob and Alles 1987, Caron 1995 in Sri Lanka; Leuschner and Khaleque 1987 in Bangladesh; Black et al. 1996 in Northeastern Thailand). In addition, an enormous amount of traditional ecological knowledge on tree management is inherent in these systems (Jose and Shanmugaratnam 1993). Such land-use systems also reflect the farmers’ survival instincts and their strategies to satisfy the basic needs in food (fruits, beverages, spices, vegetables etc.), energy (fuelwood), building materials (timber) and other needs (medicines, crafts, fodder for livestock, etc.) including cash income generation (Nair 1989; Tejwani 1994; Kumar 1999; Pathak and Solanki 2002).

    Diversified production typical of such systems also acts as an insurance against the risk of crop failures. Additional objectives include improvements in soil fertility, protection or demarcation of croplands (biofences) or providing shade/shelter for man and livestock are other important services provided by trees on farmsteads. For instance, Prosopis cineraria, a nitrogen fixing tree, plays a key role in sustaining soil productivity in the arid regions of India, besides providing fodder, fuel and fruits. In the traditional homegardens of Kerala, which are predominantly fenced-in gardens around individual houses, planted trees including fruit trees provide multiple benefits (Kumar and Nair 2004). Adoption of a particular species or a management practice is also dependent on socioeconomic considerations—profitability, feasibility and acceptability being critical concerns in this respect. Planted trees are also important in carbon (C) sequestration, C substitution and C conservation at the farm level (Schroeder 1992; FAO 2000; Shepherd and Montagnini 2001; FAO 2003; Montagnini and Nair 2004), a theme that has been emphasized recently.

    Although trees in agroforestry can contribute to sustainable land use (Moench 1991; Nair 2001; Depommier 2002), proper selection of species and their optimal management are critical (Raintree 1983; Scherr 1992; Sanchez 1995). Species effects on agroecosystem productivity also may be dependent on environmental factors and resource availability (Nair 1985; Puri and Nair 2004). Yet, the relative merits of introducing trees into production systems having disparate biophysical resources levels have not been adequately elucidated. Although agroforestry research in India is now more than quarter century-old and major initiatives such as ‘Diagnosis and Design’ were undertaken by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research under the aegis of the All India Coordinated Research Project on Agroforestry in the past, information on aspects such as choice of species for differing resource levels and ecoclimatic conditions is only scarcely available. Furthermore, most of the research on tree-based production systems done in South India remains confined to technical reports (e.g., Annual Progress Reports of the All India Coordinated Research Project on Agroforestry, New Delhi) and a few scientific publicaions (e.g., Jose and Shanmugaratnam 1993; George et al. 1996; Thomas et al. 1998; Kumar et al. 1999; Sylvie 1999; Divakara et al. 2001; Kumar and Divakara 2001; Shastri et al. 2002; Depommier et al. 2003, Patil 2005a & b; Demenois et al. 2005). In particular, little or no research has been published with a regional or agro-ecological zone-level focus, especially in an electronic format which has the distinctive advantages of quick retrieval and ease of use.

    Possibly because of the many indigenous species involved and the diversity of goods and services, knowledge on dynamics, management and productivity of multipurpose trees from South India is also not adequate. Considerable traditional knowledge existed in this region on tree management practices; much of that, however, is fast disappearing. And there is an urgent need to recognize such traditional knowledge (Ramakrishnan 2001). This, in turn, necessitates diagnosis of the current tree planting methods; characterization of species diversity in managed ecosystems and appraisal of the multiplicity of products and services in different agro-ecosystems. In view of this, an attempt has been made to develop a comprehensive database on multipurpose trees (MPTs) and MPT-based production systems of South India, which may serve as a diagnostic tool that aid in future agroforestry research, management and extension. The specific objectives of the study were as follows.

    1. To document the MPTs and the tree-based production systems in different agroecological zones of three South Indian States (Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu)

    2. to assess the indigenous knowledge on tree management and utilization of tree products

    3. to evaluate the constraints associated with integrated tree-crop production systems, and

    4. to facilitate species identification, catalog the tree management practices, and describe the seedling characteristics and parts used with the help photographic illustrations in a cost effective and easy-to-use electronic format.

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      Santoshagouda V. Patil