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Chiti Arvind

Academic background

        My undergraduate and first master’s degree in Life Sciences provided a baseline foundation for my interest in biological sciences. Yet, my engagement in ecology and evolution stemmed from two fully-funded internships (JNCASR, Bengaluru as a POBE Fellow and at STRI, Panama as a Khorana Fellow) that I undertook over four summers. I then pursued a specialised Master’s in Research in Ecology Evolution and Conservation at Imperial College London, and worked on the evolution of birdsong complexity with respect to sexual selection in Passeriformes for my thesis. My interest in avian acoustics led me to join IISER Tirupati with a small grant to develop a detection framework using passive acoustic monitoring techniques to monitor a Critically Endangered bird in the Eastern Ghats. The field of bioacoustics is not only rapidly advancing, but also helping us gain insight into evolutionary and ecological insights of organisms at the individual and population level.

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Research interest

Just like human languages have different regional dialects, birds also exhibit dialects in their songs. I am interested in understanding the persistence of cultural dialects in birdsong across a landscape gradient and looking at the functional role of complexity in birdsong. To address these queries, I will study the vocalizations of the White-bellied sholakili, a bird with a highly complex vocal repertoire which is endemic to the montane cloud forests of the Shola Sky Island in the Western Ghats. These birds are range-restricted in their habitat and are found only 1500m above sea level on these mountain tops, making these isolated populations an ideal study system.

At a population level, variation in cultural dialects of songs across populations can lead to behavioural cues that may ultimately result in reproductive isolation in the long term. Thus, mapping the spatial extent of cultural dialects and linking them to genetic connectivity will help in understanding evolutionary transmitted traits. In this species, individuals have varying song complexity within a population. Complexity is considered an honest indicator of fitness and one would expect a positive association between increasing song complexity and individual fitness. My work will involve collecting focal acoustic data from identifiable individuals as well as genetic data collection to assess gene flow in this species across its distribution.

This study will integrate aspects of behavioural ecology, evolutionary biology and bioacoustics.

Advisor information

Dr VV Robin’s research interests broadly cover patterns and processes in ecology, behavioural ecology, biogeography and evolutionary ecology. He hopes that his research contributes to conservation initiatives. He is interested in conservation initiatives involving multiple stakeholders and also in collaborative research initiatives.