T R Shankar Raman
Scientist, Western Ghats
I like to imagine that I am a writer turned wildlife scientist turned writer, living in a landscape of rainforests and plantations in the Anamalai hills of southern India. As a wildlife scientist, I focus on the ecology and conservation of tropical forests and wildlife—especially rainforest plants, birds, and mammals—mainly in the Western Ghats. In parallel, I write creative non-fiction and essays on nature and conservation for newspapers, magazines, and blogs, besides occasional book reviews and op-ed or feature articles. I like to read a fair bit and you can see what I am reading here. My blogView from Elephant Hills is on the Coyotes Network.
As a participant in an open initiative called WikiProject Nature and Conservation in India, I have also been contributing media (my images, video and audio recordings) to Wikimedia Commons and editing Wikipedia pages related to nature and conservation in India. Here is my Wikipedia user page, and you can find my Wikimedia Commons photo gallery here (works in progress).
I am also interested in animal welfare and ethics, empathy and aesthetics in humans and other animals, music and poetry, public reasoning, openness in anything from software to knowledge, and human capability and freedom and flourishing, but have done precious little about any of this except for strapping on headphones and tuning out.
Wildlife and shifting cultivation
Forest, wildlife, jhum, and plantations in the Dampa landscape, Mizoram
- Journal Article2018Breeding biology of Great Hornbill Buceros bicornis in tropical rainforest and human-modified plantation landscape in Western Ghats, IndiaOrnithological Science, 17:205-216Download
PDF, 356 KB
Loss of mature tropical forests to agricultural expansion often creates landscapes with forest fragments embedded within a matrix of human-modified habitats and land uses. Such habitat fragmentation may be detrimental to species with specialized habitat and foraging requirements and their ability to persist in such landscapes may depend on their adaptability to habitat modification. Great Hornbills Buceros bicornis, among the largest birds in Asian tropical rainforests, depend on large trees for nesting and a diverse array of patchily distributed fruiting trees. In the human-modified landscape of the Anamalai Hills, India, we compared the breeding biology and nesting behaviour of Great Hornbills in contiguous rainforest (N=3 nests) and in modified habitat consisting of coffee plantations and rainforest fragments (N=5 nests). The nesting cycle of seven of the eight nests monitored varied between 114 and 130 days. Nest provisioning behaviour was similar in contiguous forest and modified habitat in terms of visitation and food delivery rates, but visitation tended to be higher and food delivery rate lower during the nestling phase than during incubation. As expected, tree density and native food plant diversity were lower in modified habitat than in continuous forest. The diversity of food provisioned was lower in modified habitat with a 57.5% dietary overlap with contiguous forest. Hornbills in the modified habitat of coffee plantations used non-native tree species for nesting and foraging, indicating their adaptability to modified landscapes.
- Journal Article2018Seasonal variation in wildlife roadkills in plantations and tropical rainforest in the Anamalai Hills, Western Ghats, IndiaCurrent Science. 114(3): 619-626.
- Report2018Population assessment of the Nilgiri tahr (Nilgiritragus hylocrius) using the Double-observer Survey method in the Anamalai Tiger ReserveTechnical Report, Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysore, India
- Book Chapter2017Birds in Relation to Farming and Livestock Grazing in the Indian Trans-HimalayasIn Bird Migration across the Himalayas: Wetland Functioning amidst Mountains and Glaciers
- Journal Article2017Successional status, seed dispersal mode and overstorey species influence tree regeneration in tropical rain-forest fragments in Western Ghats, IndiaJournal of Tropical Ecology 33: 270-284. DOI: 10.1017/S0266467417000219
The effects of fragmentation and overstorey tree diversity on tree regeneration were assessed in tropical rain forests of the Western Ghats, India. Ninety plots were sampled for saplings (1–5 cm diameter at breast height (dbh); 5×5-m plots) and overstorey trees (>9.55 cm dbh; 20×20-m plots) within two fragments (32 ha and 18 ha) and two continuous forests. We tested the hypotheses that fragmentation and expected seed-dispersal declines (1) reduce sapling densities and species richness of all species and old-growth species, and increase recruitment of early-successional species, (2) reduce the prevalence of dispersed recruits and (3) increase influence of local overstorey on sapling densities and richness. Continuous forests and fragments had similar sapling densities and species richness overall, but density and richness of old-growth species declined by 62% and 48%, respectively, in fragments. Fragments had 39% lower densities and 24% lower richness of immigrant saplings (presumed dispersed into sites as conspecific adults were absent nearby), and immigrant densities of old-growth bird-dispersed species declined by 79%. Sapling species richness (overall and old-growth) increased with overstorey species richness in fragments, but was unrelated to overstorey richness in continuous forests. Our results show that while forest fragments retain significant sapling diversity, losses of immigrant recruits and increased overstorey influence strengthen barriers to natural regeneration of old-growth tropical rain forests.
- Journal Article2017Conflict to coexistence: Human – leopard interactions in a plantation landscape in Anamalai Hills, IndiaConservation and Society 15(4): 474-482.Download
PDF, 1.18 MB
When leopards are found in human-dominated landscapes, conflicts may arise due to attacks on people or livestock loss or when people retaliate following real and perceived threats. In the plantation landscape of the Valparai plateau, we studied incidents of injury and loss of life of people and livestock over time (15 – 25 y) and carried out questionnaire surveys in 29 plantation colonies and eight tribal villages to study correlates of livestock depredation, people's perception of leopards, and preferred management options for human – leopard interactions. Leopards were implicated in an average of 1.3 (± 0.4 SE) incidents/year (1990 – 2014) involving humans and 3.6 (± 0.8 SE) incidents/year (1999 – 2014) involving livestock, with no statistically significant increasing trend over time. Most incidents of injury or loss of life involved young children or unattended livestock, and occurred between afternoon and night. At the colony level, livestock depredation was positively related to the number of livestock, but decreased with the distance from protected area and number of residents. Half the respondents reported seeing a leopard in a neutral situation, under conditions that resulted in no harm. All tribal and 52% of estate respondents had neutral perceptions of leopards and most (81.9%, n = 161 respondents) indicated changing their own behaviour as a preferred option to manage negative interactions with leopards, rather than capture or removal of leopards. Perception was unrelated to livestock depredation, but tended to be more negative when human attacks had occurred in a colony. A combination of measures including safety precautions for adults and children at night, better livestock herding and cattle-sheds, and building on people's neutral perception and tolerance can mitigate negative interactions and support continued human – leopard coexistence.
- Dataset2017Data from: Successional status, seed dispersal mode and overstorey species influence tree regeneration in tropical rain-forest fragments in Western Ghats, IndiaDryad Digital Repository. https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.vd0nn.2
Dataset available from the Dryad Digital Repository:
Osuri AM, Chakravarthy D, Mudappa D, Raman TRS, Ayyappan N, Muthuramkumar S, Parthasarathy N (2017) Successional status, seed dispersal mode and overstorey species influence tree regeneration in tropical rain-forest fragments in Western Ghats, India. Journal of Tropical Ecology 33(4): 270-284. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0266467417000219
- Popular Article2016Is oil palm expansion good for Mizoram?The Frontier Despatch, March 18 – 24, 2016, pages 6-7.
- Popular Article2016Why Mizoram must revive, not eradicate, jhumThe Frontier Despatch, March 4 – 10, 2016, page 6.
- Popular Article2016In clouded leopard countryThe Hindu Sunday Magazine, 8 October 2016, pages 1-2.
In the rainforest, the rewards of silence sometimes exceed your wildest expectations. From where I sit quietly, I don’t hear a single artificial sound. Unseen cicadas shrill and set the air ringing, woodpeckers cackle from the treetops, and frogs click and boom from the rock-pools alongside the singing river below. From somewhere in the undergrowth, a grey peacock-pheasant sounds an echoing, guttural laugh. In the distance rise great grey cliffs, home of serow (a forest goat-antelope) and bear, overlooking the rainforests where every morning the hoolock gibbons still hoot and sing. Around the steep rock slope where I am stretched out on my back, the looming rainforest envelops me like an amphitheatre. I feel like a tiny flame steady in an evergreen sconce. As yet, I have no inkling of what we are about to witness.