Member Spotlight 2018-02-19T13:32:57+00:00

Member Spotlight

V.V. Robin

Assistant Professor

Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) Tirupati, India

Interview by Toby SantaMaria (IBS Social Media Intern)

Our ‘spotlight’ biogeographer has been a member of the IBS since 2012, and was one of the organizers of the IBS special meeting this past September, 2017 in Bengaluru, India.

Q.  You just helped plan the recent IBS conference in Bengaluru, India. Was there something unique about Indian biogeography that you wanted to highlight during the conference?

The Indian biogeography community has been so isolated that our internal joke was that we are much like the organisms on the Indian plate that were isolated for a very long time (geologically). Perhaps Indian biogeography was missing a synthesis of different streams of research in this landscape. The IBS India sessions brought together palaeontologists, anthropologists, and paleobotanists with other biogeographers. This allowed connections to be made (certainly for me) that provided an understanding of the deep natural history of the South Asian flora and fauna. Many other researchers also commented that this confluence provided a fresh perspective since the different communities of researchers do not regularly interact.

Q. What stood out to you about the IBS conference in Bengaluru?

Without a doubt, it was the coffee! The turn out of a large number of biogeographers was a close second!  Jokes aside, we really did have great coffee that we partnered with a biodiversity coffee company for. They procured coffee from either side of a biogeographic barrier (Palghat Gap), and they served this at separate counters.  There had never been a meeting of biogeographers in India, and none of us organizers were aware of the number of people working on different sub-fields that we were not directly interacting with. We eventually had 250 participants at the meeting, and these were of high academic content.

Q.  If you could reorganize the conference and do it all over again, what would you change and why?

There was a big demand for workshops. I would think we could have more workshops, and perhaps repeats of some workshops. Some of the tools and techniques in biogeography are not accessible for students in all parts of the country and workshops thus attract a lot of students.

Q.  When it comes to your specialization in biogeography (which, is Shola Sky Island habitat and it’s birds), what excites you most about the research happening currently?

I think it is the system that excites me the most. The Western Ghats Shola Sky Island system is a landscape with multiple-levels of isolation, both ancient (several million years old) and contemporary (anthropogenic deforestation). Being able to study highly restricted, threatened birds that I have been watching for the last decade and a half, and even in this short time, watching them responding to various factors as they happen is very exciting.

Q. What’s the biggest misconception that people have about your research?

During our fieldwork, my team members and I have met people who ask us “where are these famous sky islands?”. These people may be living on these sky islands, but they have not noticed the special, endemic birds around them, but they may have seen photos (now made famous by Prasenjeet’s National Geographic photo story) or have heard about Sky Islands. Although this is funny at some level, it can also be frustrating that they do not connect this with their life and their surroundings.

Q.  If you could collaborate with anyone in your field, who would it be and why?

I am not sure if there is a single person. There are such wonderful biogeographers in different parts of the globe, that I am hoping that I will be able to work with at some time or the other. I met many of them through IBS meetings, and I hope to continue building these connections.

Q.  What is the most important and relevant thing about the Shola Forests+your research that you want everyone to know?

The species on the Shola Sky Islands are ancient/relicts that have survived several extreme paleo-climatic events over millions of years, however, in a very short span of time, human activities have managed to create a major impact on the quality of their habitat and the extent of occurrence. I would like people, at least those living on these sky islands, to start noticing these organisms.

Q.  One thing I ask everyone: what does biogeography|macroecology mean to you personally, and what does your lab hope to contribute to that meaning throughout your career?

Biogeography lets you weave the stories of the wonderful diversity around us, with the landscape that they live in – their histories are tied in, and getting to uncover some of the mysteries is what drives me, and I hope my lab will be doing this in the coming few decades.

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