She is the first Indian to receive the award

Bengaluru based ecologist bags Parker-Gentry award for work on tiger conservation
news Conservation Friday, April 22, 2016 - 14:23

“Well tigers are pretty charismatic aren’t they? As carnivores they play a key role in ecosystems, making them biologically important. Why not work on a species that is interesting, important and needs attention?” 

Meet Uma Ramakrishnan, associate professor at the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bengaluru. The 43-year-old professor turned scientist investigates biodiversity, has a flair for molecular ecology and an eye for tigers. She received the prestigious Parker-Gentry on Tuesday for her work on tiger genomes, becoming the first Indian to receive the award.  

Administered by the Field Museum in Chicago, the Parker-Gentry is awarded to an individual, team or organisation for outstanding work in the field of conservation biology. “It is a real honour,” says Ramakrishnan, who also bagged a Fulbright Fellowship at Stanford University.

Uma Ramakrishnan went on to take up Maths, Physics and Chemistry in her under graduation, before pursuing her PhD in Ecology and Evolution. “Ecology has always interested me. The theoretical basis for molecular ecology is population genetics, ecology and evolution,” she says, explaining what lured her into molecular sciences.

Using genetic tools and DNA genomics, Uma and her team found that 60-70 per cent of genetic variation in Tigers of the Indian sub-continent in 2009. Her study also suggests that with increasing urbanization and growing population, the tiger count in India has seen a radical decline. “Everyone across the world loves tigers, and its India’s responsibility to help save tigers! 60% of the world’s tigers live here,” she says.

Uma studies uses the animals' fecal matter to study animal patterns and family ties by accessing their DNA. “We need to get the tiger SNA (Spherical Nucleic Acid) from some biological material,” she elaborates on the significance of DNA sequencing in her work on tigers.

The scientist then goes on to emphasize the importance of human participation and proper policy in conserving tigers. “We are doing a lot, but I think we need to integrate science better into policy decisions and management. The dialogue between science and policy needs to be viewed constructively to drive conservation,” she says. Her studies suggest that tiger populations today are still connected, but human settlements and roads are detrimental to connectivity. Moreover, in the last 200 years, populations of genetic variants of tigers have also declined. 

As for her future projects, Ramakrishnan plans on investigating biodiversity in the Western Ghats, Himalayas and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. “We will also continue the work on tigers, investigating the impact of landscapes on genetic fragmentation of tigers and other species,” she adds. 

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