Q: Congratulations on all of your recent achievements, especially the launch of your new book Ecology of a Changed World. Can you provide a brief summary of the work?
This is a textbook associated with my class “Ecology in the Anthropocene” which I am teaching this Fall. The central issues the book discusses are threats to later as summarized by the acronym COPHID: climate change, over-harvesting, pollution, habitat loss, invasive species, and disease. Because I have been working in India for such a long time, there are quite a few South Asian examples. For example, one study in Uttarakhand asked if it is better to split land into natural forest/ intensive agriculture, or instead make the land a mix of low intensity agriculture and forest. Splitting wins hands down. Another example highlights vulture declines, the pollution that caused the decline, and the consequences.
Q: How did you go about doing this research and collecting data? What was the most intriguing or unexpected part of the process?
This is not based on my research, rather than teaching. In order to make the class as good as possible I handed out detailed notes each lecture, which gradually evolved into the 28 short chapters the book is comprised of.
Q: When and how did you first become interested in this field of study?
When I came to Chicago in 2003, the courses I used to teach in my previous position at the University of California, San Diego, were already being taught by other members of the faculty here. At the same time the person who taught a version of this course left the University so I was asked to take it on. I must say it has been a very positive experience for me. As a consequence I am much better informed about the impacts we have had on nature, and the risks that carries for our future.
Q: We also want to congratulate you on being Elected a Fellow to the Royal Society of London. What does this honor mean to you?
A huge amount. As a student I used to think members of the Royal Society were ‘god-like’. Now I know the truth.
Q: You also organized “Effects of climate change on Himalayan biodiversity,” a conference held at the University of Chicago’s Center in Delhi, May 2022. How did that go?
Very well I think. I was able to identify early career students and faculty, get a good gender balance, and we all learnt a lot about the effects of climate change on both plants and animals.
Q: How has your membership with COSAS helped you over the course of your recent projects and successes?
Apart from generous financial support, which has helped both my students and myself, I have learned a great deal about Indian history, religion, and sociology, which has really helped me put my own work in a better perspective.