Connecting biodiversity to the human condition
Karaavali Skittering Frog got its name, Euphlyctis karaavali, thanks to his work
Research connects to socio-economic conditions of rural human life
These interconnections between different animals are so intricate that any disturbance poses a risk to the entire chain. There is a need to highlight these relations.
It was a small frog, but an important one. Seshadri K S was part of a team of eight that pulled one back for biodiversity when they discovered Microhyla laterite, a new species of Microhyla, in Udupi in 2016. How important the discovery was can be gauged by the fact that about 150 of the total 277 frog and toad species in India had entered the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s endangered (red) list.
Vital as M. laterite was, it’s by no means the only interesting frog in Seshadri’s life. His observations include, remarkably, frogs that skip the tadpole stage of life, and those that exhibit cannibal behaviour. Seshadri’s early connections with nature, from feeding sparrows as a child to birdwatching in high school, guided him to ecological conservation. That ‘self-motivation’ took him across the Western Ghats, studying things which have not received much focus. Behind all his endeavours are influences such as stories about nature and wildlife by Kannada writer Poornachandra Tejaswi, read to him by his mother.
The research associate with Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE) is known for his path-breaking studies of frogs in the Western Ghats and his work on canopy ecology. Seshadri believes that conservation efforts must always bring into the picture how the being in question is tied to the human condition. “It is no secret that we always prefer to understand things from the ‘what’s in it for me?’ angle. Addressing that question is very important if one has to find any success in protecting nature,” he tells us.
Seshadri, who recently completed his PhD at National University of Singapore, is set to take up the position of research director at Agumbe Rainforest Research Station, one of the spots that receives the most amount of rainfall in south India and is home to the King Cobra. He says there is much to be done for the Western Ghats as decades of research has barely scratched the surface.
He cites the example of his doctoral research in Agasthyamalai Forests, where he not only discovered frogs that develop directly from the egg -- completely skipping the transitional tadpole phase -- but also an unusual behaviour among the species where the male frogs take responsibility for parental care. These frogs nest in a particular type of bamboo used for making flutes. He also observed that eggs unattended by the ‘father’ are often eaten by other male frogs, a behaviour that indicates cannibalism. However, he also discovered that over time, there has been a shortage of nesting places due to over-clearing of the bamboo, leading to competition among males.
“Further, for these frogs to nest, squirrels have to make a hole in the bamboo at a particular spot in the plank. These interconnections between different animals are so intricate that any disturbance poses a risk to the entire chain. There is a need to highlight these relations,” explains Seshadri.
T Ganesh, fellow at ATREE, says Seshadri remains an exceptional student driven by enthusiasm. “He has a scientific approach, which also doesn’t do away with curiosity and concern. Canopy ecology has been neglected in India and his work has helped in bridging the gaps in conservation efforts.” Seshadri’s study of frogs, he says, was unique not only because of the limited research in that field but also because of the way it was connected to the socio-economics of rural life. “Though studies from socio-economic point of view are not rare, they are still in the early stages in India. These kinds of studies will further help take it forward,” he says.
But how do we convince the people living in these environments about the importance of such ecology? Seshadri says the human side of the story is deeply embedded in all these scenarios. He believes that taking research to society at large is as important as research itself.
This spurred him to collaborate with different researchers and scholars who have collectively published educational materials, including a poster on 16 species of frogs at risk in Bengaluru and a pocket guide on frogs and toads of Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu.
“Socio-economic perspectives are an essential part of conservation, especially for outreach. For example, in one of our studies we found that frogs that live in agricultural fields control insects in a big way with an adult frog eating about 100 insects every night. A farmer has to invest thousands of rupees on insecticides if he takes over their job,” says Seshadri.
This narration has a key role to play in conservation efforts, says Sudhira H S, director of Gubbi Labs, a private research collaborative. He says Seshadri’s approach to research and his commitment to take it to a logical end make him a great asset to the field of ecology.
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