From Genes to Systems

Understanding the ecology of wildlife populations in human-use lands and implementation of policies which seek to address conservation and social justice together.


In the past few decades, applications of molecular biology have been used extensively in conservation and biological invasion studies. Recent advancements in high-throughput sequencing and massive growth in reference databases have enabled the metagenomic approach to address important aspects of biological invasion. We have used metagenomics to study the gut microbiome and diet of Gambusia holbrooki in Malavalli Lake, Karnataka. Understanding the diet of G. holbrooki will provide information on the native species at risk. A total of nine G. holbrooki specimens were collected. Gut contents were extracted and subjected to DNA isolation under sterile conditions. The 16srRNA universal marker was amplified from the extracted DNA. Samples were sequenced with GridION X5 (Nanopore platform), which |resulted in 71174 total reads. The diet of G. holbrooki consisted of twenty eukaryotic families and the gut microbiome consisted of sixteen families. This exploratory work provides for the first time the diet composition of G. holbrooki.

Detour migration of Montagu’s harriers in the Central Asian Flyway Each year, hundreds of bird species migrate via the Central Asian Flyway (CAF) between their breeding grounds in central Asia and wintering grounds in the Indian subcontinent. Yet, there is very little published information on the exact routes used the birds during their migratory journeys. Although many species of birds have been ringed since the mid-20th century, ring recoveries have been scarce. Nevertheless, recent development of state-of-the-art tracking devices have enabled us to track individuals at finer spatial and temporal scales like never before.
In this study, we track the migration of the Montagu’s harrier, a grassland specialist raptor which winters across the Indian subcontinent from September to March. The species has been on the decline since the last couple of decades and information on its migratory routes, stopover sites and breeding sites are unknown. We tracked the autumn and spring migrations of six harriers using GPS-GSM tags from 2016 to 2020. The breeding sites of all individuals were located in the eastern part Kazakhstan while their wintering ranges extended from western Indian to south India. Harriers completed their migratory journeys within 20-25 days of departure and covered a distance of about 3500 – 5000 Kms. Migrating harriers took a western detour by circumventing the Himalayas which is a major ecological barrier in the CAF. We quantified the extent of detour by comparing it with the great circle distance (shortest route) and correlated the migration tracks with wind drift, ground elevation and resource availability along the route. Although many soaring raptors are known to cross the Himalayas at high altitudes, our results illustrate that a longer detour might be more optimal for Montagu’s harriers.

A.P. Ranjith1, 2, M. Nasser1 & Dharma Rajan Priyadarsanan2

1Insect Ecology and Ethology Laboratory, Department of Zoology, University of Calicut, Kerala

2Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), Royal Enclave, Srirampura, Jakkur Post, Bangalore, Karnataka

Parasitoids are organisms which develop outside or inside another organism by taking nourishments from the hosts and eventually kills the host as a direct or indirect effect of their development. Majority of the parasitoids are belonging to the hyper diverse insect order Hymenoptera, and are found to be the most important natural enemies as many of them have the ability to check the population of many other insects under control. In India studies on the parasitic hymenoptera and their host associations, especially with insect pests are scanty. It is imperative to understand the host parasitoid association of insects in different agricultural fields as well as forest ecosystems in order to implement effective natural control measures against insect pests. Even though more than 6000 parasitoid species have been reported from India, we make use of only less than 100 natural biological control systems. Recently we have reported 95 parasitoid species from organic rice fields and 46 species from inorganic rice fields. This study has also recorded 45 host parasitoid association from these rice fields. Most of the studied parasitoids were reared from major rice pests like Scirpophaga incertulas, Cnaphalocrocis medinalis and Pelopidas mathias. We observed host parasitoid association of all developmental stages of an insects (egg, larva and pupa) except nymphal parasitism which is found to be rare compared to others. Among them species of the family Braconidae was the dominant parasitoid which attacks larval lepidopterans (Psalis pennatula and Pelopidas mathias) which voraciously feed on the leaves of the rice plant. Telenomus and Tetrastichus species were reared from eggs of S. incertulas. Considering the pest status of S. incertulas it is very important to control them in the egg stage by using these parasitoids as larval stages of this pest are being concealed within the rice stem which will reduce the chances of pest control. The information on host records of the chalcidoid and ichneumonoid parasitoids of pests of rice may help scientists, farmers and all those involved in managing pests of rice to design better methods to manage the pests of rice and improve the yield of rice.

Anoop NR & Ganesh T

Developing landscape-level conservation strategies of the wide-ranging, endangered, and conflict-prone Asian elephant (Elephas maximus Linnaeus, 1758) requires reliable data on the pattern and determinants of their habitat use inside and outside Protected Areas (PAs). However, this information remains unknown from most of the species range. We surveyed indirect signs of Asian elephants for two years (2019-2020) and used the occupancy modelling approach to investigate the combination of ecological and anthropogenic parameters influencing their habitat use in the Wayanad plateau of India’s Western Ghats. We examined their habitat use at two spatial scales such as (1) landscape-scale (2) reserve scale. The ‘landscape scale’ includes forest and the buffer area (agriculture land) and the ‘reserve’ includes forest. The best-fitting models demonstrate that (1) elephant habitat use is negatively influenced by anthropogenic disturbances at the ‘landscape scale’ and (2) availability of swamps, and perennial water sources are the major determinants at the reserve scale. Our study also found that the habitat use of elephants in Wayanad is high during summer when compared to post-monsoon. Our findings provide the management authorities a framework to develop conservation plans for elephants in the Wayanad plateau.

Peninsular India’s human dominated savanna landscapes support large carnivores like Indian grey wolves Canis lupus pallipes. We know very little about how their populations behave in human dominated areas and what the impacts of fragmenting savanna habitats on them are. This is primarily because it is difficult to study wolf populations unless very intensive and long term surveys are deployed on field. In such a case, alternate sources of information like archival data, social media and wildlife photography collections can often prove useful. Through collaboration with a conservation organization, we extracted information from their photographs of wolf packs from 8 years from the Purandar tehsil of Pune district. We aim to demonstrate how datasets can be maintained for long term monitoring of elusive carnivores. We will also attempt to use this dataset and explore the possibilities of assessing population parameters like survival probabilities and occupancy.

CWH is a provision under the Forest Rights Act, 2006 (FRA). It provides the possibility of attenuating rights of forest-dwellers in Protected Areas (PAs) and relocating them if necessary in the interest of wildlife. Some states have started execution of these provisions. We demonstrate how these provisions seek to strike both a substantive and a procedural balance between conservation concerns and rights of forest-dwellers. We then evaluate the ongoing process of CWH implementation, showing the substantial deviations that undermine the spirit of the provisions. Finally, we discuss the scientific challenges that need to be confronted if and when the provisions are properly implemented.
The CWH provisions require first the full rights recognition of forest-dwellers under the FRA. Following this, a case-by-case determination of whether co-existence is possible, whether some rights have to be attenuated to make it possible, or whether relocation is the only option to prevent ‘irreversible damage’ of wildlife. This is to be done through a multi-disciplinary participatory process.
However CWH implementation has been initiated even though the rights recognition process is incomplete in those PAs. Most forest-dwellers residing in and around PAs are still unaware of their rights or have had their claims illegally rejected. Further, the expert committees constituted by the Forest Department for identification of CWH have several flaws in their composition and functioning.
When a rigorous process is initiated, the key ecological question is going to be how one determines whether wildlife is facing irreversible damage when the forest rights are exercised by the Gramsabhas, and whether attenuation of the rights might solve the problem or not. Our study highlights the deviations and challenges observed in the ongoing CWH process and provides suggestions to address them and ensure a just, unbiased and scientific process.