The mountains of Western Ghats feature the unique shola-grassland matrix which varies across different regions. Sholas are found at isolated higher elevations, mostly above 1300 meters. They have been recently termed as “Sky-island” systems of the world. These forests are home to many endemic birds such as the Laughingthrush, Scaly thrush, Black and orange flycatcher, Shortwings, Nilgiripipits, Broad-tailed grass bird, Small sunbird etc. However these are one of the most threatened habitats, due to high deforestation and human occupation during the past century. Today these habitats are severely fragmented with no connectivity between them.
Since the early nineties I have been exploring many of these mountain forests regularly and was fascinated by the divergence of one group of Trochaloteron laughingthrushes which are seen in the Shola forests of highest mountains peaks.
Though identical in some ways, the four different populations found here shows considerable difference in many aspects. There was not much information available on the population of northern most and southern most species until we conducted some surveys in early 2005-2007. The 2007 survey in south Wayanad Mountains brought out the first ever photographic evidence of the Banasura Laughingthrush. The study also revealed the extant of population of Banasura laughingthrush existing on the Camels hump mountains of South Wayanad. Old literature by British naturalists on this species was also confusing. The taxa was moved several times from one genus to another genus. This confused me too. As taxonomic studies based on genetics have since progressed in India, I decided to initiate a genetic study on these groups of birds. I was interested in the evolution of these birds and so later in (2009), I contacted the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bangalore, where a similar study was undertaken by Dr. V V Robin and Dr. Uma Ramkrishnan on Shortwings of Western Ghats. By the end of 2011 the ball started rolling. I met Robin and Uma in 2012 at NCBS campus. It marked the beginning of a unique research project on the evolutionary history of Mountain birds of Western Ghats. Since 2012, I have trekked to several mountain tops, leading expeditions, mist-netting and capturing birds. It gave me ample opportunity to look at birds on hand and to learn many things. It was a great team work which lasted around 4 years and at the end of it, we were surprised at new findings. Our studies showed that Mountain birds are affected by geographical gaps (size of the valley in combination with paleo-climate change) and climate change and the laughingthrushes and shortwings are endemic radiations with in Western ghats. Our research findings have been published in Proceedings of Royal Society B and there are few more on the way.