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Recasting the conservation landscape: a restoration experience (Ravi Sankaran Memorial Lecture)

September 8, 17:40 – 19:00, JN Tata Auditorium, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru 560 012 – Open to public

Conservation science reveals that human impacts on ecosystems are often negative. In tropical regions, forest loss, fragmentation, commercial exploitation, and conversion to other land uses, detrimentally affects many plant and animal species and may exacerbate negative interactions with wildlife. In this context, does ecological restoration provide hope for the future? Here, I describe field experiences from small-scale but long-term ecological restoration of degraded rainforest fragments in the Western Ghats, India. Our experience underscores the value of expanding conservation beyond protected reserves into surrounding human-use landscapes such as tea and coffee plantations, thus expanding the domain of conservation beyond preservation of the ‘pristine’ into caring for the countryside. Worldwide, a growing roster of examples attests to the promise and limitations of restoration to reverse degradation and foster human – wildlife coexistence. Ecological restoration remains a crucial, yet challenging, means to translate conservation science into positive action to revive degraded areas, reconnect habitat remnants, and reaffirm the place of people as members of an ecological community spanning the wider conservation landscape.

T. R. Shankar Raman – I work with the Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysore, based out of our long-term field research station in the Anamalai hills, Western Ghats. There, with colleagues, I work on tropical forests and wildlife conservation, ecological restoration of degraded rainforests, and human – wildlife coexistence. I also write regularly on nature and conservation for newspapers, magazines, and blogs.

On Integrating Science and Conservation: How Can We Make Our Science Most Useful?

September 9, 08:30 – 09:30, JN Tata Auditorium, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru 560 012 

Conservation of ecological systems and their components is a daunting, yet urgent and hugely important, task.  This urgency and importance argue strongly for wise use of our funding and efforts. However, administrative structures within the overall discipline of conservation biology tend to separate the tasks of learning about ecological systems (science) and taking actions to maintain or enhance them (conservation/management).  This administrative separation of scientists and managers can result in reduced communication between members of these two groups, causing inefficiency and other problems. I argue for a more integrated approach in which scientists and managers collaborate in the conduct of conservation programs. A scientific step is embedded within the larger program, ensuring its relevance to the conservation process. The overall conservation program is viewed as a decision process characterized by the following components: objectives, potential actions, model(s) of system response to potential actions, monitoring, and a decision algorithm. Development of these components is a substantial task requiring input from both managers and scientists. Many decisions in conservation are iterated over time, providing an opportunity to reduce uncertainty (learn) and thus make increasingly better decisions. Specifically, we sometimes have multiple models of the manner in which our system responds to management actions. Comparison of model-based predictions with estimates from monitoring produces changes in the relative confidence that we have in the different models, i.e., learning. This sort of iterated decision process integrates science into a larger conservation program and promotes collaboration of scientists and managers within this program. In a world filled with important and urgent conservation problems that are characterized by uncertainty, the described approach is a natural way to reduce this uncertainty and to make the best possible decisions at each decision point.

James D. Nichols worked as a federal government scientist for 40+ years, first with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, then with the biology division of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and now as emeritus with USGS.  His general focus has been the ecology and management of animal populations. Specific areas of interest include development of monitoring and estimation methods for animal populations, and decision processes for conservation. His work has included substantial collaboration with Dr. Ullas Karanth and The Wildlife Conservation Society – India Program.

Butterfly Stories: From Biology to Conservation

September 9, 18:00 – 19:00, JN Tata Auditorium, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru 560 012 – Open to public

As people grow older, they tend to lose the sense of wonder about nature and wildlife. This talk is a reminder of the fascinating beauty and complexity of life, as rendered through stories of butterflies. The stories will include butterfly caterpillars, some of which talk to ants, some sleep for years, some masquerade as menacing snakes to scare away their predators, and some eat toxic plants to medicate themselves. The audience will hear of the evolutionary arms-race between plants, butterflies and their enemies. Using his own research, Dr. Kunte will speak about the exceptional species and morphological diversity of butterflies, and explain how this diversity has come about and shaped by natural and sexual selection. He will highlight how multi-species interactions shape all aspects of butterfly life, from chemical defenses and physiological adaptations to life history strategies. Finally, he will demonstrate how aspects of butterfly biology, such as metapopulation dynamics and plant-butterfly interactions, help us design effective biodiversity conservation and management strategies in human-dominated landscapes.

Krushnamegh Kunte was drawn to butterflies from an early age, and studying them became his lifelong passion. He especially studies the evolution and genetics of speciation, morphological diversification and sexual dimorphism, using butterflies as model systems. He has published three books and over 40 research articles on butterflies and other biodiversity. He is now a faculty member and a Ramanujan Fellow at the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bengaluru.

Moving mountains: migration, rurality and social ecology

September 10, 08:30 – 09:30, JN Tata Auditorium, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru 560 012 

Mobility of people, materials and ideas is an elemental character of the spatial geography of globalization. While migration is a continuous multi-dimensional social process, particular forms of development induce, encourage and influence the form and direction of movement of people and materials across the landscape. Some aspects of this transformation such as urbanization and their environmental impacts are now well recognized. My talk will focus on the radical transformation of rural society under neoliberal development, with an emphasis on socio-ecological relationships. What is rural about a globalized village? How does agrarian transformation affect forests and rivers? How do we understand community in a village where a third of its residents were born elsewhere, and another third who are born there spend their productive lives elsewhere? How do we conceptualize community based natural resource management in a rural space with multiple and mobile communities?

I will discuss this rural transformation drawing from my own ethnographic research in one river valley in Himachal Pradesh over the last twenty years, and relate village level transformation to landscape level socio-ecological changes using district, state, and regional data. Spatial and temporal changes in intensity, nature and form of natural resource use, shifts in information, experiential and embodied ecological knowledge, changes in social institutions such as caste, gender and community, transforming aspirations and attitudes to conservation, shifting boundaries of community membership, and varying flows between urban and rural will be discussed. Villages in the Himalayan region exemplify a new rurality integrated in global capital movements and demand a new social approach to conservation.

Sudha Vasan teaches and writes on political ecology with a focus on issues of gender, caste, and adivasi/ tribal issues as they intersect with ecology and environmentalism. She has a regional interest in the Himalaya, and has done field work in many areas of the Indian Himalaya looking at issues of social, cultural, economic and ecological change, cross-border trade, sacred nature, forest law, policy and institutions. Her book Living with Diversity: Forestry Institutions in the Western Himalaya was published in 2007 by the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. She has held research and teaching positions at Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies from where she completed her Ph.D., Institute of Economic Growth (Delhi), Indian Institute of Advanced Study (Shimla) and Indian Institute of Technology (Bombay). She is currently Associate Professor at the Department of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi, India.

The challenge of environment regulation in an aspirational economy

September 10, 18:00 – 19:00,  JN Tata Auditorium, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru 560 012 – Open to public

With its commitment towards greater industrial and infrastructure expansion, conservation and environment management have emerged to be important “developmental” challenges for a country like India. Since 1980s, India has seen a range forest and environment regulations put in place for mitigating and offsetting damages. One the one hand these regulatory frameworks like the EIA, coastal regulation and forest diversion processes have been criticized for slowing down the growth rates; on the other questions have been raised on the efficacy of environmental laws in ensuring environment protection. Through a set of contemporary case studies, this plenary presentation will attempt to highlight the challenge environment laws face for both ensuring conservation as well as securing nature based livelihoods. It will also seek to highlight the importance of legal compliance as an important ally for remedying environment degradation and working towards better environmental outcomes.”

Kanchi Kohli is researcher and writer working on environment, forest and biodiversity governance in India. Her work explores the links between law, industrialization and environment justice. Other than her independent work, Kanchi is also associated with legal research at the Centre for Policy Research-Namati Environment Justice Program and is member, Kalpavriksh Environmental Action Group. Since 2004, she co-coordinates an Information Dissemination Service for Forest and Wildlife cases in the Supreme Court of India (Forest Case Update) and also the Campaign for Conservation and Community Control over Biodiversity related to the implementation of the biodiversity regulation in India. She has individually and in teams authored several publications. This includes 13 books/reports, 30 papers and over 400 popular articles on the above mentioned subjects. Her recent exploration is towards delving deeper into concept of commodification of nature and how it plays out in real time policy and sustainability discourses.

How does genetics aid conservation?

September 11, 08:30 – 09:30, JN Tata Auditorium, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru 560 012 

We have lost over fifty species since 1900, with rates of extinction accelerating globally as human populations grow. On the other hand, technology has grown tremendously, aiding understanding of biological processes at very fine detail. Since the discovery of the structure of DNA in the 1950’s and the next-generation sequencing revolution in 2007, looking into DNA to understand biology is easier and more accessible than ever before.

But can these technologies and genetic information actually facilitate species conservation? I have been a conservation geneticist for the last eighteen years, and will draw on my experience to address this question. I will start by reviewing studies where genetic data have impacted conservation of species from whales to tigers, and highlight examples where lack of such data may have impacted conservation outcome.

I will then move to discussing my research in conservation genetics. I will use examples from birds and mammals to highlight discovery of cryptic biodiversity, studies on demographic history and population genetics, and inbreeding and relatedness.

Finally, I will discuss our research on tigers. How inferences on present, past and future genetic variation have influenced my understanding of their biology, and how such knowledge could help ensure their survival into the future.

Uma Ramakrishnan is fascinated by understanding the past: how populations of species have moved and changed over time. She hopes that such understanding can aid species conservation. She uses DNA as a source of information to uncover the past. Uma has been working on Indian biodiversity for over a decade, and is currently an associate professor at the National Centre for Biological Sciences, TIFR, Bangalore.

Towards Paris and After: The Climate Challenge

September 11, 18:00 – 19:00,  JN Tata Auditorium, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru 560 012 – Open to public

– Jairam Ramesh