Scientist, Oceans and Coasts
My research interests concern issues of conservation, particularly the implications of climate change for marine ecosystems, the rational management of marine systems and fisheries in India, and the interface between policy, traditional practices, and ecosystem management. I have worked in several reef systems around India, and along the Kenyan coast. My chief concerns are in furthering the fledgling tradition of good field ecological research in marine environments in India, and in helping fill some of the significant gaps in the very basic knowledge we require to manage them. A long-held fascination for their aesthetic irresponsibility, together with generous helpings of inertia and serendipity, has drawn me to marine ecosystems and their conservation. I obtained my Master's degree in Wildlife Science from the Wildlife Institute of India in 1995. For my master's research I worked on coral community composition and its response to human disturbance in the intertidal reefs of the Gulf of Kutch in Northwest India. I am one of NCF's founder-trustees, and direct its reef program. I continue to be interested in reef community dynamics and disturbance, and my doctoral research focuses on the consequences of temperature-induced mass-mortality of coral on the reef systems of the Lakshadweep atoll reefs, Western India.
- Journal Article2017Alternative reproductive tactics and inverse size-assortment in a high-density fish spawning aggregationBMC Ecology, 17:10, DOI 10.1186/s12898-017-0120-5Download
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Mating successfully at high densities often requires species to employ unusual reproductive tactics. We report unique courtship behaviours in an un shed, high-density spawning aggregation of squaretail groupers (Plectropomus areolatus) that are potentially associated with alternative reproductive tactics (ARTs). Aggregating males are typically known to court females in small territories (pair courtship), which is often associated with a pair-spawning tactic. However, we also observed the largest males simultaneously courting several females in mid-water shoals – a unique, high-cost-high-benefit courtship tactic which appears to result in a novel school-spawning tactic. Counter-intuitively we observed an inverse size- assortment in individuals–large males courted smaller females and vice-a-versa, likely linked to different pay- offs with competitive ability and local mate density. These unique, high-density behaviours are threatened to be lost, with increasing commercial fishing pressures on the P. areolatus aggregation.
- Popular Article2016Living with change: local responses to global impactsCurrent Conservation, issue 10.2 http://www.currentconservation.org/?q=issue/10.2
- Journal Article2016For traditional island communities in the Nicobar archipelago, complete no-go areas are the most effective form of marine managementFor traditional island communities, no-go areas are the most effective form of managementOcean & Coastal Management 133, 53-63 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ocecoaman.2016.09.003Download
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For traditional island communities in the Nicobar archipelago, complete no-go areas are the most effective form of marine management
The ability of local communities to sustainably manage natural resource harvests in coral reefs ecosystem depends heavily on the strength of traditional institutions. Coastal communities have evolved a suite of restrictive practices to control marine offtake and there is considerable recent evidence of their effec- tiveness in protecting and enhancing resource stocks. However, traditionally imposed restrictions can vary considerably in their complexity and in their functional effectiveness. The indigenous communities of the Nicobar Islands are dependent on marine resources for sustenance, managing them with a range of traditionally imposed restrictions. These include limited entry to certain locations, closed seasons and areas, and restrictions on species, size-classes of fish and fishing methods. We tested the relative effectiveness of protection in areas managed under different traditional control regimes by comparing the abundance and biomass of targeted fish groups in managed and unmanaged areas. Our results indicate that reef sites with the strictest form of restriction e essentially no-go areas e had significantly higher abundance and biomass values of most functional groups of fishes compared with partially protected and control locations. In contrast, targeted food fish stocks did not differ from control locations in partially protected sites managed with even complex forms of traditional management. Ensuring that traditional harvest rules are complied is critical to the success of any management system, and our re- sults suggest that they can be most strictly enforced in traditional no-go areas. Our work highlights the importance of critically evaluating the factors influencing traditional management systems to strengthen their ability to protect these reefs from unsustainable overharvest.
- Journal Article2016"Choice" and destiny: The substrate composition and mechanical stability of settlement structures can mediate coral recruit fate in post-bleached reefsCoral 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.
- Dataset2016Long-lived groupers require structurally stable reefs in the face of repeated climate change disturbances.Karkarey R, Kelkar N, Lobo AS, Alcoverro T, Arthur R (2014) Data from: Long-lived groupers require structurally stable reefs in the face of repeated climate change disturbances. Dryad Digital Repository. http://dx.doi.org/10.5061/dryad.d7j02
- Poster2015What are coral reefs?
- Poster2015What makes a healthy reef?
- Popular Article2015Eats shoots and doesn't leave: Dugong herbivory and movement patterns in the seagrasses of the Andaman and Nicobar IslandsEcoLogic: The NCF Blog
- Journal Article2015Sharing mechanisms in corporate groups may be more resilient to natural disasters than kin groups in the Nicobar IslandsHuman Ecology. 43:709-720
It has been suggested that kin groups are better predisposed to cooperatively manage essential natural resources than non-kin groups because of inclusive fitness gains. Whether these long-term genetic pay-offs sufficiently offset the immediate costs of cooperation in periods of scarcity is uncertain. We compared patterns of resource sharing across three island communities in the Nicobar Archipelago affected by the 2004 tsunami. While sharing mechanisms were similar across regions, group composition varied: Central and Southern Nicobar were organised along kinship lines, while Chowra was organised as corporate alliances of unrelated households. We documented post-tsunami losses and conflicts emerging in resource sharing after the event. While kin groups showed considerable breakdown in resource sharing arrangements, corporate communities in Chowra were much more resilient to change. Our results suggest that the more immediate reciprocity of corporate alliances may outweigh the potential benefits of inclusive fitness when faced with conditions of extreme resource scarcity.
- Journal Article2015Seagrass Herbivory Levels Sustain Site-Fidelity in a Remnant Dugong PopulationSeagrass Herbivory Levels Sustain Site- Fidelity in a Remnant Dugong PopulationPLoS ONE 10(10): e0141224. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0141224Download
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Seagrass Herbivory Levels Sustain Site-Fidelity in a Remnant Dugong Population
Herds of dugong, a largely tropical marine megaherbivore, are known to undertake long-dis- tance movements, sequentially overgrazing seagrass meadows in their path. Given their drastic declines in many regions, it is unclear whether at lower densities, their grazing is less intense, reducing their need to travel between meadows. We studied the effect of the feeding behaviour of a small dugong population in the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago, India to understand how small isolated populations graze seagrasses. In the seven years of our observation, all recorded dugongs travelled either solitarily or in pairs, and their use of seagrasses was limited to 8 meadows, some of which were persistently grazed. These meadows were relatively large, contiguous and dominated by short-lived seagrasses spe- cies. Dugongs consumed approximately 15% of meadow primary production, but there was a large variation (3–40% of total meadow production) in consumption patterns between meadows. The impact of herbivory was relatively high, with shoot densities c. 50% higher inside herbivore exclosures than in areas exposed to repeated grazing. Our results indicate that dugongs in the study area repeatedly graze the same meadows probably because the proportion of primary production consumed reduces shoot density to levels that are still above values that can trigger meadow abandonment. This ability of seagrasses to cope per- haps explains the long-term site fidelity shown by individual dugongs in these meadows. The fact that seagrass meadows in the archipelago are able to support dugong foraging requirements allows us to clearly identify locations where this remnant population persists, and where urgent management efforts can be directed.