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NikhilaSri Vardi Profile picture


Jobin Varughese Profile pic


My PhD project looks at the landscape changes and the consequent changes in the distribution of understory birds in the Shola Sky islands (SSI) – the mountain peaks (> 1400m ASL) of Western Ghats, with a conspicuously different climate and biodiversity as compared to those at the foothills of the Ghats.

1. Presentation of Open Seminar (the first stage of PhD):

“How do climate and landscape change affect the range expansion of tropical understorey birds in forest plantations?”
Date: 7th January 2020.

Study Site: Wooded habitats in SSI of Western Ghats, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
The presentation was deemed satisfactory and the additional comments state that it was overtly detailed and that there is a need to present patterns at the bigger picture.

2. Field work:

Initiated in the hills of Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu, also a major part of SSI from 15th January.

Study Site: Field stations were based out of Kotagiri, Ooty, Sholur, Manjoor, and Gudalur to cover a large part of the 1500 sq km landscape

Assisting Team members: Six field assistants, four interns and four research scholars, assisted me in collecting data
Time period: Five months – January 2020 to May 2020

Plots sampled: 83 nested square plots of 1ha and 4ha across the landscape.


  • Bird Survey – Occupancy survey for eight species of birds – Nilgiri Sholakili, Nilgiri Laughingthrush, Nilgiri Flycatcher, Black-and-orange Flycatcher, Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher, Indian White-eye, Indian Scimitar-babbler, and Red-whiskered Bulbul.
  • Vegetation survey – 50 nested square plots of 1ha/4ha
    • Variables measured: Girth at Breast Height (GBH) of Acacia sp., Eucalyptus sp., Pine sp. and Shola trees, vegetation profiles, stem density, canopy cover, moss cover, fallen logs, cut stems, stumps, percentage cover of Daphniphyllum sp., Rubus sp., Bamboo, fire and Lantana.
  • Challenges faced: We had to discontinue our field work in the months of April and May because of nation-wide Covid lockdown. We had to spend those months in the field station at Gudalur, Tamil Nadu, before we could transport each member to their respective home-towns. During the lockdown, I finished the first draft of my first chapter which is out for review by the other authors.

3. Plans ahead:

Comprehensive exam (the second stage of PhD): About 20th July, 2020.

The presentation for comprehensive exam will involve four chapters:

Chapter 1: Review on patterns of climate and landscape change in Western Ghats and discussing the genetic impacts on biodiversity. Manuscript completed, in internal review.

Chapter 2: Vegetation structure change with the invasion of exotic Acacia mearnsii in the Shola Sky Islands. 20% completed.

Chapter 3: Impacts of vegetation and landscape features on the distribution and abundance of understory birds in the Shola Sky Islands. 30% completed.

Chapter 4: Use of technology for rapid assessment of vegetation structure. In proposal and trial data collection stage.

4. Publications and Presentations:

  • Report on “Survey and Study about the Present Status and Restoration of Grasslands and about the Native Grass Species in Kodaikanal Forest Division” as a part of Tamil Nadu Innovation Initiatives (TANII) 2017-2018. The report is submitted to the TN Forest department, in January, 2020.
  • Jobin Varughese, Ritobroto Chanda, Harikrishnan CP, Swapna Lawrence, M. Arasumani , Devcharan Jathanna, V. V. Robin (7th March 2020). “How do Understory Birds respond to the Impacts of Exotic Tree Invasion in Shola Sky Isalnds?” Poster presentation at A Day of Life
  • Annual Biology Day at IISER Tirupati

5. Papers in preparation :

  • Jobin Varughese, Meera M, Guha Dharmarajan, Pooja Gupta, Shomita Mukherjee, Nandini Rajamani, V.V. Robin. “Understanding the patterns of Climate and Landscape Change in the Western Ghats on Conservation of Biodiversity”