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Lavanya Bahuguna


Woman To Know: Ecologist Uma Ramakrishnan Who Is On A Mission To Save Tigers

  • JWB Post
  •  April 23, 2016


Uma Ramakrishnan is a biodiversity ecologist who works at the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS). She became the country’s first Indian to win the Parker/Gentry Award presented by the Field Museum.

The 43-year-old professor turned scientist investigates biodiversity and has been working along with her team for the conservation projects for tigers, Indian wild cats, leopards and Macaque monkeys, etc., across India.

On the website of NCBS, she introduces herself as:

“In practical terms, my research focuses on revealing the processes that drive patterns of mammalian genetic variation (in the present and the past). I use field-collected samples, assemble molecular genetic data and analyze these data with phylogenetic, phylochronologic, phylogeographic and population genetic inferences. Much of my research over the last few years has focused on the Indian subcontinent because of (1) its geographic setting, representing the intersection of three major biogeographic realms (Palearctic, Africotropical, Indomalayan); (2) its geologically dramatic history, driven by plate tectonics, volcanism and climatic change; (3) its ecologically diverse habitat types from the highest mountains on earth to very dry deserts and tropical forests, including biodiversity hotspots; (4) the presence of Homonins in India for perhaps one million years, and modern humans in relatively high (and ever increasing) densities for about 70,000 years impacting the Indian biota; and finally the fact that (5) virtually nothing is known about patterns of genetic variation in native Indian species, and even less is known about the impact of climate on species in this region in particular.”

Speaking at the WIRED2014 conference once, she recalled a time when India was full of tigers. She said, “DNA stays stable for a long time, so we take small bits of tissue from 200-year-old skins and compare the DNA of these extinct tigers to the tigers that are around today. I need more data to understand how tigers move across the Indian subcontinent. Getting DNA from tigers shows how far tigers are moving in a particular landscape. It reveals what elements of the land may promote or retard movement. We’ve been using tiger faeces, extracting DNA, and finding out their secrets through that. If your DNA is like a book, tiger faeces is like a torn up book.”

Wow, that’s fierce! Looking at the DNA of tigers from 200 years ago to stop the process of their extinction is incredible!

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