Open Defense of Thesis by Mr. Sreedhar Vijayakrishnan on 'Seeing the Elephant: Socioecology and Physiology of the Female Asian Elephant Elephas maximus in an Anthropogenic Landscape in Southern India'
OPEN DEFENSE OF THESIS
Title: Seeing the Elephant: Socioecology and Physiology of the Female Asian Elephant Elephas maximus in an Anthropogenic Landscape in Southern India
Candidate: Mr. Sreedhar Vijayakrishnan
School of Natural Sciences and Engineering
Advisor: Prof. Anindya Sinha
Date: Thursday, February 11, 2021
Time: 11:00 am
Venue: Lecture Hall, NIAS
Burgeoning global demand for natural resources has led to an extensive increase in fragmentation and degradation of forests, resulting in habitat islands, human-dominated landscapes, and disjunct wildlife populations. Many such modified spaces host a wide range of species, including long-ranging, large mammals such as the Asian elephant Elephas maximus. Perpetual exposure to anthropogenic disturbances in most such landscapes coerces such species populations to adapt to these novel ecologies in order to ensure their long-term survival and fitness. These adaptations are often in the form of behavioural and physiological responses, or demographic changes. One significant aspect in this context, however, is that the use of these human–dominated, modified landscapes by species, such as elephants, may not be limited to only serve as movement pathways or temporary refuges, but these areas could form an integral part of their home range. In today’s context of conservation outside protected areas, therefore, such landscapes are of functional importance, and understanding species behaviour and ecology in such areas more closely may become vital for the conservation and management of the affected populations.
This thesis thus attempts to explore the lives of Asian elephants in a human-dominated landscape, the Valparai plateau in the Anamalai hills of southern India, with a primary focus on their behavioural ecology and some aspects of their physiology. It first attempted to understand the factors determining the landscape-level distribution of this population of elephants and its seasonal variation, identifying slope and elevation to be their primary determinants. Through intense field tracking, it was observed that, of all the habitat types available on the plateau, riparian vegetation was preferred by the elephants, disproportionate to its availability. Our close observations of female elephant socioecology also indicated that the groups on the plateau formed fairly unique social units, with minimal fission-fusion processes and inter-group interactions. Furthermore, the thesis has explored certain aspects of reproductive and stress physiology in the study elephants, comparing the observed patterns with another group of female elephants, maintained under semi-wild conditions in a forest camp in the same landscape. Through eight detailed chapters, the thesis thus contributes to our sparse knowledge of elephant biology and ecology, behaviour and physiology in a rapidly changing environment while highlighting the importance of such understanding in devising conservation and management strategies for the beleaguered elephant populations of today.
All are invited to attend