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Back to Basics: 

Back to Basics L. SHYAMAL < LSHYAMAL @ GMAIL . COM >

The Indian Constitution Preamble: 

The Indian Constitution Preamble To protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life, and to have compassion for living creatures; To develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of enquiry and reform;


“I have already come to one conclusion as to why science in India is developing with disappointing slowness. It is not because Indians are stupid or lazy. It is because they are too polite” - J. B. S. Haldane An apology

Some questions: 

Some questions How many ornithologists in India In organizational setups ? What is their contribution ? As individuals ? What is their contribution ? What is the future ? How much do we already know about the birds ? What else can we learn ? Can we do better ?

Biodiversity research an early start: 

Biodiversity research an early start The first flora ever written (1678-1703) pre-Linnaeus Hortus malabaricus (12 vols) Hendrik Von Rheede Tot Drakenstein Fauna of British India (1890-1941) Numerous authors Lepidoptera Indica (12 vols) (1890-1913) Frederic Moore


Vedic times - 250 Sanskrit bird names (fide Raghuvira) Brood-parasitism in the Koel known well before Aristotle (384-322 BC) Mughal naturalist traditions - paintings, hunting, falconry and documentation 1713 Edward Buckley surgeon at Fort St. George, Madras 1782 Pierre Sonnerat ‘Voyage aux Indes Orientales’ 1834 Adolphe Delessert ‘Souveniers d'un Voyage dans L'Indes’ 1752 J. Gideon Loten became Governor of Ceylon 1781 John Latham ‘General Synopsis of Birds’ 1790 ‘India Ornithologicus’, 1821-28 Based on Sir N B Kinnear, JBNHS 51(1): 104-110 Early history of bird study in India


Bird study in India 1839-41 T. C. Jerdon, Surgeon General in Madras Regiment 'Catalogue of the Birds of the Indian Peninsula' Madras Journal of Literature and Science. Jerdon recorded 420 species compared to the earlier 236 in Col. Sykes's list and Franklin's 156 1841 Edward Blyth curator at the Asiatic Society. 1860 Alan O. Hume (1829-1912) : Stray Feathers 1896-1987 Salim Ali - Hyderabad state 1931-32 Travancore and Cochin 1933 Central India (Bhopal, Gwalior, Indore and Dhar) 1938 Mysore 1939-40 Kutch 1943-44 Gujarat 1944-48 Book of Indian Birds 1941 1928 Hugh Whistler, Popular Handbook of Indian Birds 1931 Humayun Abdulali 1947 ZSI - Biswamoy Biswas,B K Tikader, BS Lamba and others. 1959 Bird Ringing started (Thanks to Kyasanur Forest Disease) 1960 Popularization and networking The Newsletter for Birdwatchers started by Zafar Futehally 1968-74 Salim Ali and Dillon Ripley ‘The Handbook’ 1990 Popular field guides for the Indian region especially for the tourist.

The foundations: 

The foundations T. C. Jerdon Edward Blyth A.O. Hume Hugh Whistler Salim Ali Dillon Ripley British Ornithology Indian Ornithology American Ornithology A long tradition The Handbook 10 Volumes


Cost of a guide A substantial part of a months earning of say a BNHS researcher 10 Volumes of ‘The Handbook’ on top of this


The growth of bird study in India Based on data from Aasheesh Pittie (2001) A bibliographic index to the birds of the Indian Subcontinent. 10 fold growth every 50 years Life-history, behavioural and ecological studies are few. Most publications are about species distribution or occurrence. Already there is a space shortage for this kind of information.

The Internet revolution: 

The Internet revolution Email discussion groups Nathistory-India ( since 1995 ) Bngbirds ( since 1999) BirdsofBombay Keralabirder India-nature-pixs [Digital images] Delhibirds BengalBird Maharashtra Pakshimitra Rajasthan Naturalists Gujarat OrientalBirding (tourism oriented) No entry bars Flexible standards for reporting Conservative estimates for most groups > 10 posts/week and > 100 members USE INFORMATION OR LOSE IT The information output far outstrips the capacity of traditional journals. Need to use the right tools to deal with digital information

State of the art Being skeptical - The ‘experts’ don’t really know all: 

State of the art Being skeptical - The ‘experts’ don’t really know all Rasmussen,2005 BirdSpot Grimmett, Inskipp & Inskipp, 1998 Great Tit (Parus major) Hard to separate fact from artistic license Rasmussen’s maps based on unpublished maps by Ticehurst and Whistler and uses 2,30,000 data points from specimen catalogues and observations


Source: UNEP Human distribution map Can we do the same with birds ? Not just black and white


Specimens 20,000 AMNH, NY 16,000 Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago 150 Kansas University Natural History Museum 50,000 skins with the Zoological Society of India 26,000 skins in Bombay Natural History Society BMNH, London (Hume collection alone > 75,000)


The North American Breeding Bird Survey Uses roadside points on routes 24.5 miles long, with a total of fifty stops located at 0.5 mile intervals along the route. 3-minute point counts of radius 0.25 mile. 3700 active routes across the USA and Canada, of which ~ 2900 are surveyed annually. Bobolink Spatial patterns Temporal patterns Scarlet Tanager A COSTLY PROPOSITION


EPOQ : Canada Checklist based monitoring Cyr, A., J. Larivee and E.H. Dunn (1997) Monitoring bird populations with checklists programs. In Monitoring bird populations: the Canadian experience. Canadian Wildife. Service Occassional Paper No. 95. Ottawa Royle, J.A and J.D.Nichols (2003) Estimating abundance from repeated presence–absence data or point counts. Ecology 84(3): 777–790 Uses ‘triplists’ lists of species seen (not their numbers) known amount of effort defined location and time of year Results match trends identified using BBS data. EPOQ started in 1950 with 3 millions records from 250 000 checklists. 10000 checklists gathered each year. Results include a comprehensive atlas with seasonality, density and distribution information.

Tapping observational data: 

Tapping observational data JBS Haldane (1959) The Non-violent Scientific Study of Birds Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society 56(3):375-386 “In the nineteenth century it was hard to study birds without killing them.... This phase is now fortunately over. One can learn to assign a bird to its correct species without killing it. What is the next step? It is, I think, to find the distribution of species and subspecies in India at different times of the year, and also their local habitat, names and so on. Here Ogniev's great Zoology of the USSR could be a model. Ultimately we should look forward to a time when there will be an ornithologist for every hundred or so square miles of India capable of enumerating the local species, and a central organization such as the Bombay Natural History Society to make maps showing the distribution of each species in India. As. however. this would require ten thousand or so ornithologists it is not immediately possible. But a start can be made. The next question to be asked is. perhaps, how many birds of one or more species there are in a given area. ...”


Enter data

Generate distribution maps : 

Generate distribution maps

Generate lists of species for any geography with reporting rates and reference information: 

Generate lists of species for any geography with reporting rates and reference information Traceability of records to sources, no attempt to verify records

The distribution of observers Urban bias: 

The distribution of observers Urban bias Coverage of the Asian Waterfowl Census 1994-96 IWRB Report The distribution of observers (based on Jungle Crow Corvus macrorhychos)


All records (55320) Some rare species are better studied than most common species. Biased reporting Causes: Tourist influence; rarity craze; ‘twitching’ Journal publication criteria; Funding Cures: Demonstrate importance of local reporting importance of regular reporting Move to trip-reporting Electronic publication

Rufous-bellied Hawk-Eagle (Hieraaetus kienerii): 

Rufous-bellied Hawk-Eagle (Hieraaetus kienerii) One record subsequently from the Eastern Ghats Tirumala hills GARP prediction ( 2005) Predictive mapping


Sarus Crane (Grus antigone) GARP prediction ( 2005) Predictive mapping


Detecting and reducing error: 

Detecting and reducing error Bad specimen labels Transcription errors Fraud #239109(f) Field Museum of Natural History Chicago Coll: Walter Koelz, 15-Feb-1938 from Londa(15.46 °N, 74.51 °E) Siberian Rubythroat Erithacus calliope Map for Himalayan Rubythroat Erithacus pectoralis in Grimmett, Inskipp, Inskipp (1998) Specimen data no less fallible than observational data

Collaborative ornithology: 

Collaborative ornithology Improve information access Identification material Public domain general literature Literature Species standards (and support change) Recognition of populations and the need to support changes BNHS-Envis: a good basis for commons names Rasmussen: so far the best treatment of species Common database pool Fair policies System should support collaboration Should live beyond individuals

Wikipedia : an inspiration 

Wikipedia : an inspiration An open source encyclopaedia Free for use Free to improve Equality of contributors Uses numbers to achieve quality Many little drops to make an ocean instead of single large pools of knowledge Change from paper and print era Knowledge is fluid and fast changing

Life-history of a naturalist : 

Life-history of a naturalist Curiosity a closer examination of the variety Collection, travel, exploration, illustration, photography, documentation Looking, hearing, sensing. Always present in children -lost either through social and/or educational pressures Identification - use of field guides Use of illustrated guides to identify species. Identification - use of taxonomic literature, keys The ability to critically examine identification guides and to verify species identity. Able to discern unknown from known. Abstraction - away from specifics towards patterns and principles To understand, hypothesize, apply, test underlying theory including genetics, species concepts, speciation, biogeography, life histories, behaviour, ecology Skills, abilities, encouragement, guidance, resources, access to wilderness and nature areas Knowledgeable peers with the ability to communicate effectively Access to tools, literature, guides. Economic support. Information and literature sources, library access. stage activities requisites Publish To know what is already known and to build on existing foundations. To verify existing knowledge. Lack of library access and literature. Publication media formerly limited. Perish


Requisites Abilities, skills Access to wilderness areas Literature and information Tools to aid documentation Access to knowledgeable and enthusiastic peers and mentors A place to publish / leave knowledge

Access to information: 

Access to information Herbaria Wealth of India Floras State gazetteers Indian Forester Many others Museum collections ZSI, BNHS, NHM, ... Fauna of British India Records of the Indian Museum Asiatic Society Journal Catalogues Journal of the BNHS Stray Feathers Many of these sources are outside copyright protection, but still inaccessible to the vast majority

The science and society debates: 

The science and society debates American taxpayers are entitled to open access on the Internet to the peer-reviewed scientific articles on research funded by the U.S. Government.

Science and open access journals: 

Science and open access journals The US Constitution says that copyright exists ‘to promote the progress of science’. When copyright impedes the progress of science, science must push copyright out of the way. Richard Stallman What is open access? Open access means everything published in PLoS journals is immediately available online for free. Read it, host it, print it, copy it, distribute it—all use is fair use, so long as the original authors and source are credited. Open access also means that a complete version of the published work is deposited in an archival public repository (such as PubMed Central), which enhances the utility of all deposited papers by allowing sophisticated searching, manipulation, and mining of the literature, using new and emerging tools.

Copyrights and science: 

Copyrights and science It should be a truism that the scientific literature exists to disseminate scientific knowledge, and that scientific journals exist to facilitate the process. It therefore follows that rules for use of the scientific literature should be designed to help achieve that goal. ... Many journal publishers appear to believe that the purpose of scientific literature is to enable them to publish journals so as to collect subscriptions from scientists and students. Such thinking is known as ‘confusion of the means with the ends’. Richard Stallman

Access to works of government: 

Access to works of government 17 U.S.C. § 105 provides that: Copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of the United States Government, but the United States Government is not precluded from receiving and holding copyrights transferred to it by assignment, bequest, or otherwise. The intent of the section is to place in the public domain all work of the United States Government, which is defined in 17 U.S.C. § 101 as work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person's official duties. Contractors are not employees.

The Zoological Survey of India: 

The Zoological Survey of India Primary Objectives Exploration and Survey of Faunal Resources; Taxonomic Studies; Status Survey of Endangered Species; Publication of Results through Departmental Journals; Publication of Fauna of India; Maintenance and Development of National Zoological Collections; and Central Referral, Information, Advisory and Library Services. Secondary Objectives Maintenance of Museums at Headquarters and Regional Stations; and Environmental Impact Studies wherever specially asked for by the Ministry of Environment & Forests. (Accessed: September 2006)

The Botanical Survey of India: 

The Botanical Survey of India Primary Objectives To survey the plant resources of the country. To undertake and complete taxonomic studies of all the flora of the country. To enlist the endangered species, to undertake measures for the effective conservation and to collect and maintain germplasm and gene bank of endangered, patent and vulnerable species. To bring out volumes of National Flora and Flora of States/Union Territories. To identify, collect and preserve specimens of plants which are economically and otherwise beneficial to human being and To prepare National Database of herbarium collection including types, live collections, plant genetic resources, plant distribution and nomenclature. Secondary Objectives To undertake studies on selected critical and fragile ecosystems. To undertake assessment of flora relating to environment impact studies as and when called for; To undertake ethnobotanical studies and evaluate plants of economic utility in specified areas and To carry out geobotanical studies in specified areas. (Accessed: September 2006)

Bombay Natural History Society: 

Bombay Natural History Society Salient Features: 1. One of the best collections in Asia providing precise scientific information on the fauna and their geographic distribution in the Indian Sub-continent and adjoining countries. 2. The bird/mammal/reptile/amphibian Collection has been catalogued and computerised for easy accessibility. 3. The Specimens are taxonomically identified to the species level. 4. Rare Collections with species now extinct and collected from remote unaccessible areas. 5. Specimens in good condition even as old as 100 years but easy to handle. 6. The Collection is open to all educational institutional/researchers from India and abroad for scientific studies. (Accessed: May 2004)

Museum collections treasure troves of information: 

Museum collections treasure troves of information Phylogeographic studies Hydrogen isotopes UV, colorimetry Ancient DNA Spatial and temporal data analysis Phylogenetic studies Population genetics Morphometrics Taxonomic studies Conservation Or dermestid food ?


McNett, Gabriel D, Marchetti, Karen (2005) Ultraviolet Degradation In Carotenoid Patches: Live Versus Museum Specimens Of Wood Warblers (Parulidae). The Auk S.M. Wisely, J.E. Maldonado & R.C. Fleischer (2004) A technique for sampling ancient DNA that minimizes damage to museum specimens. Conservation Genetics 5: 105–107, 2004 Zoological Museum Amsterdam, Bird collection, 3D type specimens Eclectus Parrot (Eclectus cornelia) ZMA 261 (holotype?)

Confusing the means for the ends: 

Confusing the means for the ends Zoological Survey of India Publications expensive Journals expensive and old papers not found easily Little or no species or region related information Museum catalogues unavailable over Internet or on request Botanical Survey of India ditto Bombay Natural History Society ditto

Digital libraries: 

Digital libraries Gallica - The national library of France Many of J. D. Hookers works T. B. Fletcher, Tennent Some volumes of Fauna of British India

Important Bird Areas: 

What is importance ? To whom ? At what scale ? Species conservation Are we clear about the species concepts ? Do we know the evolutionary processes ? Do we understand the biological and ecological aspects ? Habitat conservation Do we have the spatial information needed ? Do we understand the other factors ? Important Bird Areas


Grimmett, Inskipp & Inskipp Rasmussen, raises the former subspecies to species The ‘Chestnut-tailed Starling’ a jumbling up of records


John S Wilkins The ‘species problem’ A need for some biology basics - Not found in the field guides

National Red Data lists: 

National Red Data lists IUCN. (2003). Guidelines for Application of IUCN Red List Criteria at Regional Levels: Version 3.0. IUCN Species Survival Commission. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. ii + 26 pp. At regional, national and local levels (hereafter referred to as regional level) there are essentially two options: (1) To publish an unaltered subset of the global Red List encompassing those species that reproduce in the region or at any stage regularly visit the region. This may be a feasible option, particularly when the region has a high number of endemics or threatened near endemics, or when there is currently a pronounced overall deficiency of data pertaining to species status within the region. (2) To assess species' extinction risk and publish Red Lists within the specific region. For the purposes of regional conservation assessments there are important reasons to assess species' extinction risk and publish Red Lists within specific geographically defined areas.


CHAPTER 7 Birdwatchers, Scientists, and the Politics of Vision Cooperation and Conflict In 1916 the British zoologist Julian Huxley, then a young assistant professor of biology at the Rice Institute in Texas, lamented the increasing polarization between "amateur" field naturalists and "professional" biologists.


“Perhaps the most serious problem that growth on this scale potentially brings is an upset in the balance between the sophisticated and unsophisticated and, at a deeper level still, between the professionals and the amateurs. The long and fruitful record of collaboration between these different groups is a justifiable boast of natural history in this country ”

Right to Information Act 2005: 

Right to Information Act 2005 (2) It shall be a constant endeavour of every public authority to take steps in accordance with the requirements of clause (b) of sub-section (1) to provide as much information suo motu to the public at regular intervals through various means of communications, including internet, so that the public have minimum resort to the use of this Act to obtain information. (3) For the purposes of sub-section (1), every information shall be disseminated widely and in such form and manner which is easily accessible to the public. It would truly be a pity if scientific advance needed recourse to laws


Information References Exchange information Training Collection, collation Share and level the field Conservation

Information sharing can go a long way: 

Information sharing can go a long way “exchanging notes exhibiting interesting species and otherwise encouraging each other”

Thank you: 

Thank you

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