My interests lie in the broad areas of behavioural ecology, conservation biology, phylogeography, and evolutionary biology, but with a specific focus on the behaviour of social vertebrates. Social animals are fascinating as behavioural interactions between individuals are influenced by various factors such as ecological conditions, demography, kinship between conspecifics leading to potential inclusive fitness benefits, and potential conflicts between conspecifics. Teasing apart the roles that these factors have played in shaping animal societies can constitute challenging and exciting research. The Asian elephant offers a wonderful non-primate mammalian system to carry out such research on as it is socially advanced, offers opportunity for inclusive fitness benefits, and inhabits ecologically diverse habitats. Since most of our current understanding of mammalian socioecological theory comes from the study of primates, studying this non-primate system can broaden our perspective of socioecological theory and further our understanding of sociality in cognitively advanced vertebrates. We have, therefore, been studying the socioecology of the Asian elephant in southern India. We also study communal roosting in mynas.
In the area of conservation biology, we have helped to estimate population sizes of Asian elephant populations by genotyping individuals using non-invasively collected dung samples. We also use agent-based models to examine bias in population size estimation. We have also examined how elephants and people interact with one another in the context of road traffic inside a Protected Area in southern India.
I carried out prior work on mammalian sociogenetics during my postdoctoral position at Stellenbosch University, South Africa, where I examined genetic relatedness and behavioural data in two populations of the facultatively social yellow mongoose to find out why individuals in one population showed increased sociality and helping behaviour, while those in the other did not.
Before that, I worked on the population genetic structure and phylogeography of the Asian elephant for my doctoral dissertation, which was carried out under the supervision of Prof. R. Sukumar at the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, and in collaboration with Prof. Don J. Melnick and Dr. Prithiviraj Fernando at the then Centre for Environmental Research and Conservation, Columbia University. The Asian elephant, despite its long, complex, cultural association with humans, is currently endangered, limited to approximately 41,000-52,000 animals worldwide. My research involved the use of molecular techniques to examine the population genetic structure of this species at different spatial scales, with the objectives of understanding the relatedness between individuals at the level of social groups, elucidating patterns of gene flow between and within populations, research that would be useful to management, and tracing the evolutionary history of the species. I maintain my interest in studies of phylogeography and am continuing the work on the phylogeography of large mammals in the Western Ghats in southern India that I began after completing my Ph.D.
Last updated: January 2, 2017
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