“Unexpected results on natural dynamics of ecology can be found using it”

Young Ecologists Talk and Interact (YETI) 2011, now under way at the Indian Institute of Techonlogy-Guwahati, witnessed a unique activity on the second day.

Instead of interaction on ecology or conservation, participants in one of the workshops were asked to do an arithmetic exercise using calculators. They were amazed at the results they got as they had no idea that these could be related to studies in ecological sciences.

It was Vishwesha Guttal, assistant professor at the Centre for Ecological Sciences (CES), Indian Institute of Sciences (IISc), Bangalore, who demystified mathematical modelling of ecology for the young ecologists.

Mr. Guttal helped them understand that through proper application of simple mathematical modelling, interesting results of ecological studies could be found.

Building confidence

The idea behind the workshop was to build confidence in young ecologists that they could understand mathematical models of ecology, he told The Hindu. In India, subjects were so compartmentalised that those who opted to study ecology, came from botany, biology, wildlife backgrounds. As they were not exposed to mathematics, they were scared of doing even simple maths.

Mr. Guttal said unexpected results on natural dynamics of ecology could be found using simple mathematical models. In India, it was yet to be applied but in the West it was being widely used. The mathematical models could also help make interesting predictions of species populations and other dynamics.

The second day of YETI 2011 — the largest student-organised academic conference — began with a plenary talk by Deepak Barua, assistant professor in Biology from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Pune.

He spoke about his study on the gene function of Arabidopsis thaliana and the growing potential to use this plant species as a model organism for research in ecology and evolution.

Kartik Shanker, assistant professor from the CES, IISc, explained the global patterns and mechanisms which affect the richness and range of species.

Presentations were made on a wide range of topics such as lab experiments on freshwater snails, butterfly diversity, use of invasive weed species for biofuel and corridor use by Jaguars in Central America.

The speed-talk-cum-poster session included diverse ecological studies by students, ranging from erosion problem of the Brahmaputra and environmental impact of coal mining, to understanding biogeography of bird species through song, and the role of zoos in spreading environment awareness.

The workshops aimed at developing skills of the young ecologists in designing an ecological study and using various tools and techniques for analysing data.

(The Hindu is the media partner for the event)