I am a field biologist with a broad interest on the evolution of life on earth and how species evolve and adapt in an ever-changing landscape. I use birds as model organisms, mountain ecosystems as thrust areas, and with tools in ecology, molecular biology to explore further on my research ideas. My research is mostly collaborative in nature. Many of my research questions evolved from my extensive natural history explorations across India over a period of 20 years. I believe conservation research is more essential in today’s world to support science-based management of ecosystems. Some of these areas support threatened and endangered species, and, transdisciplinary, collaborative research blending basic and applied sciences can do wonders in our biological understanding.
This website highlights my research on the birds of Western Ghats which I had started around twenty years back (1990). My area of research covers four main aspects of ornithology: (1) breeding biology,(2) population trends of bird communities in larger landscapes, (3) evolutionary history of cryptic and endemic species of India and (4) conservation of threatened species.
During the initial years, I spent much time observing birds in their different habitats such as mountain tops, lowland forests, wetlands, agricultural ecosystems (coffee gardens, rice fields etc.) From these observations, I found that species diversity is decreasing at alarming rate in areas where human intervention is very high. I then undertook a comparative study of bird communities in different habitats. Interestingly, I found evidences of local extinction of many species within a span of just 10
years! This motivated me to look closely at how individuals survive, reproduce and what environmental pressures influence their breeding success. And hence I decided to study the breeding biology (perhaps the most intimate aspect of ornithology) of species, which takes considerable amount of time due to the difficulties while working for many years on a single species. This gave me deeper understanding on various aspects of survival strategies adopted by them. More details of this research are highlighted in Breeding Biology page.
Second part of my work includes extensive bird surveys in the forests of Western Ghats. From 1990, I had attended and organised several bird surveys across the three south Indian states of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. It helped in understanding the distribution limits and habitat preferences of many species. These surveys paved the way towards two of the most important ornithological studies conducted in Kerala.
One was retracing Dr. Salim Ali’s ornithological survey conducted in 1933, after a period of 75 years, and comparing the changes in avifauna across the period. This was done as per the request of Forest Department, Government of Kerala, in 2009.
The second was the Malabar ornithological survey, also carried out for the State’s Forest Department in 2010-2011. This was the first systematic ornithological survey conducted in 6 districts of the north Kerala.
The most interesting part of my research happened from 2012 onwards, when I joined as a researcher with the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bangalore, to pursue questions related to evolutionary history of birds of Western Ghats. This is a larger collaboration which involves many researchers and I was finally able to find answers to some of my own scientific queries (see page on “Evolution”) as well as adding more information to the existing knowledge on the birds of Indian subcontinent.