Pooja Rathod

Research Affiliate, Oceans and Coasts

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MSc in Wildlife Biology and Conservation, National Center for Biological Sciences, Bangalore

I am currently working in the Lakshadweep archipelago, studying how functional herbivores contribute to reef recovery processes. A part of my research also explores how structural changes in reef habitat (a consequence of mass coral bleaching events) affects distribution of herbivorous fish across reef depth gradients. Broadly, my interests lie in understanding the patterns and processes by which degraded coral reefs recover, and how this can be incorporated into, or influenced by, management practices.

Projects

Agatti 20rubble

Coping with catastrophe

Documenting patterns and processes of resilience in the Lakshadweep reefs

Publications

  • Journal Article
    2016
    "Choice" and destiny: The substrate composition and mechanical stability of settlement structures can mediate coral recruit fate in post-bleached reefs
    Coral Reefs. 35: 211-222

    Increasingly frequent and intense ocean warming events seriously test the buffer and recovery capacities of tropical coral reefs. Post-disturbance, available settlement structures on a reef (often dead coral skeletons) vary considerably in their mechanical stability and substrate composition, critically influencing coral recruit settlement choice and fate. In the wake of a coral mass mortality in the Lakshadweep archipelago, we examine (1) the relative availability of recruit settlement structures (from stable to unstable: reef platform, dead massive coral, consolidated rubble, dead corymbose coral, dead tabular coral, and unconsolidated rubble) in 12 recovering reefs across three atolls in the archipelago, (2) the substrate composition [crustose coralline algae (CCA), mixed turf, macroalgae] of these structural forms, and (3) whether the choice and fate of young coral are mediated by the substrate and stability of different structural forms. For this, we measured the abundance and distribution of recruit (<1cm), juvenile (1–5 cm), and young adult (5–10) corals of 24 common coral genera. Four years after the mass mortality, reefs differed considerably in composition of settlement structures. The structures themselves varied significantly in substrate cover with dead tables largely covered in CCA [60 ± 6.05 % (SE)] and dead corymbose coral dominated by mixed turf (61.83 ± 3.8 %). The youngest visible recruits (<1 cm) clearly preferred CCA-rich structures such as dead massives and tables. However, older size classes were rarely found on unstable structures (strongly ‘‘avoiding’’ tables, Ivlev’s electivity index, E = -0.5). Our results indicate that while substrate cover might mediate coral choice, the mechanical stability of settlement structures is critical in determining post-settlement coral survival. The composition and availability of settlement structures on a reef may serve as a characteristic signature of its recovery potential, aiding in assessments of reef resilience.

  • Popular Article
    2015
    Gardeners of the Reef
    Natural History, SAEVUS
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    PDF, 895 KB

    The coral reefs of Lakshadweep have faced two mass bleaching events in the recent past, the second one occurring as recently as in 2010. As the dead coral structures get covered with algae, the associated marine life disappears, and soon the entire coral reef ‘dies’. Remarkably, nature has corrective methods in place to recover from such losses. The herbivorous fish on the reef help serve this purpose, but only if enough survive to devour the ever increasing amounts of algae.

  • Popular Article
    2015
    Where the land meets the sea
    The Hindu in School, 2 December

    http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-in-school/where-the-land-meets-the-sea/article7938159.ece

  • Popular Article
    2014
    Empty Sea Syndrome
    Pooja Rathod, Tiasa Adhya
    http://www.sanctuaryasia.com/magazines/conservation/9689-empty-sea-syndrome.html#sthash.gZcREHIh.dpuf

    Overfishing and unsustainable practices are causing fish to disappear from the world’s oceans at unprecedented rates. We  interact with fishermen in Malvan along the Maharashtra coast to learn about the impact of trawlers and the exploitation of dwindling marine resources. 

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