My research is uniquely interdisciplinary and on current and relevant issues. I have used diverse tools and techniques from the natural sciences, social sciences, and geospatial sciences to understand the complex interactions among physical geography, biodiversity, and humans in the Eastern Himalaya. The common theme is coupled natural and human systems through the lens of sustainability science. I have published several single and multi-author papers in prestigious journals like Climatic change, Annals of Botany, and PLoS One, to name a few. In addition to this, I have also published a book and three book chapters. My research has been featured in popular media including magazines such as Mongabay and importantly local newspapers, as for example, Sikkim express. I have had the opportunity to receive multiple competitive grants and participated in writing grant proposals for major funding agencies in the United States and India. I have also raised funds through crowdsourcing websites such as kickstarter.com.
My Ph.D. dissertation entitled “Response of socio-ecological systems to climate change in alpine ecosystems of the Himalaya”, examined the impacts of changing climatic conditions on high altitude ecosystems and the adaptation strategies of the indigenous communities and their surrounding biodiversity in the Himalaya, a region that I also hail from. This research is important for three reasons. First, one-fifth of humanity is directly dependent on the ecosystem services provided by the Himalaya. Second, the Himalaya is a global hotspot harboring rare and endemic species. Third, the region is experiencing climate change at alarming rates with temperatures rising around three times the global average. Research in the Himalayan region suffers from a lack of long-term measurements. This lacuna constrains the scientific capacity to assess the magnitude of contemporary land use and climate change or their impacts on the people and the biodiversity of the region. My doctoral dissertation aimed to fill this gap in knowledge.
I used an interdisciplinary approach involving tools from three broad disciplines:
a) Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) tools- such as questionnaire surveys, key informant interviews, focus group discussions, resource mapping, social mapping, participatory and non-participatory observation
b) geospatial tools to investigate changes in Enhanced Vegetation Index (EVI) - a greenness index to identify changes in vegetation phenology using satellite imagery
c) ecological tools- vegetation plots to quantify diversity and abundance of species along an elevation gradient and across different grazing regimes.
I recently completed a UNDP-funded project conducting research on human-wildlife conflict (HWC) in the Sikkim Himalaya. HWC is a critical ecosystem disservice facing the biodiversity-rich Himalayan region. We are using participatory rural appraisal (PRA) tools and geographic information systems (GIS) to come up with a framework that will be scaled up to a regional perspective and potentially applied to different landscapes facing similar issues. We worked in close collaboration with the State government to design the first standard operating procedures for HWC in the state and training needs assessments for the government departments.
I have the experience of teaching undergraduate Biology courses as a teaching assistant in the Department of Biology, for which I conducted laboratory classes and supported the lecture component. I have also held training workshops on P.R.A. techniques for master’s and early Ph.D. students at the Sikkim University, India.
Prior to my Ph.D., I worked with (ATREE), a research institute in India that is among the top 30 environmental think tanks in the world, per the yearly Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program survey. This experience has equipped me with skills to work in multiple roles- as an academic, administrator, facilitator to discourses between government and local communities, principal investigator to multi-disciplinary projects-coordinating and leading field and administrative ground staff both at site and at the regional office in India, to name a few.
Science communication and outreach
I am passionate about sharing my research work with both academic and non-academic groups. In this respect, I conducted policy consultation workshops with national and state government representatives from 6 Himalayan states of India and Nepal and stakeholders across multiple scales. In addition to this, I have also conducted awareness workshops with bankers and IT managers sponsored by the Earthwatch Institute and ATREE, besides numerous talks in primary and secondary schools. I have presented my work at 10 conferences across 4 countries and have received awards for my oral presentations. As part of my commitment to sharing science with nonacademic audiences, I published a coffee table book that was partly crowdsource funded on kickstarter.com and ATREE (atree.org). The book captures a glimpse of the threatened biodiversity, cultural traditions, beliefs, and knowledge systems of indigenous communities of Lachen valley in Sikkim. It aims to support and strengthen environmental policies, towards the conservation of this region and encourage environmentally sustainable and economically viable tourism in Lachen Valley.