Raj's Himalaya Lab
                       Department of Environmental Studies, University of Delhi, India
www.du.ac.in
www.cismhe.org

Research

 

Conservation Genetics & Eco-genomics

One of the fundamental questions in conservation biology to which I seek answers to is: why are some species endangered while others do well or turn invasive? Could there be intrinsic problems (genetic, probably!) which make some species vulnerable to survival risks. I chanced upon the role of genetic mutations in inducing male sterility in plant species that resulted in species’ endangered status. Continuing my search for patterns in plant species rarity my researches showed that genetic traits play an important role in plant rarity; diploids tend to be endangered, while polyploids turn invasive. It was gratifying that this contribution was well received (reviewedin Nature – 2011). To build on this hypothesis, we are investigating the relationship between genome size and plant rarity and invasion. I hope to contribute further in understanding the role of genomic and genetic factors in plant rarity and invasion and to extend this line of research, particularly in the context of plant invasion problems.

Land-use Change & Species Extinctions

A maiden study, along with my collaborators, on the Himalayan deforestation revealed that nearly one-fourth of endemic species across the taxonomic groups such as angiosperms, gymnosperms, mammals, birds, reptiles and fishes are likely to be extinct by 2100. The role of land-use, human demographic changes and possible urban heat island effect under changing building construction practices in the Himalayan Mountains was highlighted. I extended this research on the land-use change driven biotic extinctions in the Himalaya by studying the impact of unprecedented and haphazard hydro-power development on the Himalayan terrestrial ecosystems. This contribution to conservation literature has potential application in policy planning of dam building in the Sino-Indian region.

Climate Change & Elevational Range Shifts

Our lab is currently engaged in studying plant species’ responses to climate change in the Himalaya. In particular, my group’s work is focused on examining species’ elevational range shifts under the impact of warming during the past century.

Environmental Impact Assessment

I founded an interdisciplinary institution dedicated to studying environmental impact of large-scale developmental projects. Ours was the first report of an invasive monster diatom, Didymosphenia geminata, invading the Himalayan Rivers; we have cautioned that river regulation is likely to have serious consequences on the biology and ecology of the diatom driving out native aquatic biodiversity of the Himalayan Rivers. Using vast data base on the Himalayan rivers (hydrology, physico-chemical and biological attributes) we proposed a macro-invertebrate based new biotic index to evaluate water quality in freshwater rivers. Besides, our lab has produced more than 50 research documents on environmental impact assessment of various developmental projects which have been widely recommended by the Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India as a bench mark for carrying out EIA studies.

Plant Systematics & Conservation

Complete taxonomic revision of some of the endangered Himalayan medicinally important species such as Coptis teeta (Ranunculaceae) and Panax spp. (Araliaceae), carried out by our group has resulted in discovery of new taxa, taxonomic resolution of long-standing confusion in the Himalayan Coptis and Panax spp. (both medicinally important taxa). We also rediscovered a number of Himalayan endemic taxa considered extinct by the Red Data Books.

 

Research Goals

My future research would focus on genetic and genomic drivers of plant rarity and invasion. In particular, I would initiate researches on invasive floras of Southeast Asia and North America – the two major recipient regions of exotic species. I consider that these floras are in a state of flux and a large number of exotic arrivals are polyploids (that I have shown in my earlier works). My focus would be to examine DNA C-values of exotics. Genome downsizing in polyploids is correlated with plant invasiveness, which needs to be studied. We would further establish the importance of cytotypes and their role in exotic plant invasion. Collaborative efforts among cytogeneticists, ecologists and plant taxonomists would be highly desirable in such situations. 

 

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