YETI (Young Ecologists Talk and Interact) is a student-organized national conference featuring research in ecology, evolution, behaviour and conservation. It aims at creating a friendly learning environment for students and a platform for researchers to present, exchange and discuss ideas. It was initially started under the name SMEECS (Students Meet in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Science; Bangalore) in 2008 before it took it’s current name—YETI—in 2009. Since 2011, YETI has been on the move and has been held in different states of India each year, also reaching the north-eastern tips of India; Nagaland in 2013 and Tezpur in 2017. The participants in these conferences mostly comprise of students in their B.Sc. and M.Sc. with a handful of researchers presenting posters, talks or workshops. YETI 2018 was organised at Baroda, Gujarat. Our institute, IISER Tirupati, was kind enough to fund travel and conference tickets for 8 students from the BEER group (Behavior, Ecology and Evolution Research group comprising of both Nandini Rajamani’s and VV Robin’s labs) to present preliminary work on various aspects of ecology and evolution. I will go on to list some of the talks I heard. The first plenary talk was by Dr. Pranay Lal. It was very engaging; a true eye opener to two facts that we continue to ignore everyday:
- The major producers of oxygen aren’t forests. They are a particular kind of algae that live in the temperate seas. But yet the majority of conservation efforts have been towards forests. Link
- The major sink of CO2 normalized by area is not the oceans, but the Ganga river with its unique sediment chemistry. Link
The next plenary was by Dr. MK Ranjitsinh on the conservation of wildlife in India during his days of service. As Deputy Secretary, Forests and Wildlife of the Government of India, he drafted the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972, a piece of legislation that is, till date, the saving grace for India’s wildlife. His contributions include the conservation of the central Indian race of critically endangered Barasingha/Swamp deer Rucervus duvaucelii and the initiation of Project Tiger. Viral Joshi of our group (winner of Sanctuary Asia, Young Naturalist Award) had the privilege of meeting and dining with Dr. MK Ranjitsinh whilst listening to his stories on the conservation of endangered species. Mr. Sandeep Kumar's (IAS, Gujarat Forest Department, Gir Wildlife Sanctuary) realistic talk on ways of creating economic opportunities for locals in areas with Asiatic lion populations and results of this program over the last twenty years was astounding. The Gir lions had extended in range and numbers, and a side-by-side increase in revenue generated through mango cultivation was observed. This is a very rare scenario in which both the locals and animals are benefitted.
There were over 100 posters in all and these were displayed for a day each. The posters spanned across many themes such as ecology, evolution, genetics, toxicology, taxonomy, molecular biology and animal behavior and were in my opinion, better than most of the talks. The group (both labs together) presented 4 posters and 1 talk at this conference:
- Occurrence and distribution of marmots in Kashmir and Ladakh -Senan Dsouza, Swati Udayraj, Nandini Rajamani.
- Coat color variation in palm squirrels - Shijisha Khalid, Nandini Rajamani.
- Evolution of sexual dimorphism in breeding mammals - Nivetha Murugesan , Nandini Rajamani.
- Evolution of mouth markings in Estrildid finches in the light of brood parasitism - Harsha Kumar, Nandini Rajamani.
- Mapping wetlands of Tirupati using remote sensing - Harikrishnan CP, Arasumani M, VV Robin (talk by Harikrishnan CP).
- Song mimicry of Tawny Lark – Viral Joshi.
The conference ended with some cultural entertainment. Tunes of Sofia Ashraf, the environmental activist who uses rap music to deliver her message followed by some traditional, powerful Garbha dancing marked the end of the 4-day conference. All in all, it was a nice trip spanning a week involving two very long train rides. We decided to stay for an extra day to explore the biodiversity around Baroda. The Scuirid Lab had its first sighting of the Northern or five striped palm squirrel (Funambulus pennantti) after which a short visit was made to the Wadhwana Bird Sanctuary, Baroda (link to E-bird checklist).
Photos by Harsha Kumar