Urban biodiversity specialist Ravi Jambhekar on how he combines Science and Art to promote conservation

Integrating visual media and scientific principles helps communicate science more effectively and reach a wider audience

Published - June 22, 2024 11:40 am IST

An illustration explaining the idea of biodiversity in cities

An illustration explaining the idea of biodiversity in cities | Photo Credit: Ravi Jambhekar

The fourth in the monthly series by WWF-India that highlights niche and unconventional green careers through the stories of well-known personalities from the field of environment and conservation

Growing up in Mumbai, I maintained a small garden at home and was always fascinated with animals and plants, especially their behaviour. However, I never imagined turning this interest into a career.

Early days

I was introduced to the field of research during my Bachelor’s in Zoology. At Ruparel College, Mumbai, we had a butterfly garden that we monitored regularly for changes in biodiversity. This experience opened my eyes to the world of ecological research. The head of the department, Madhavi Indap, played a significant role in steering me towards natural history and ecological research.

I later undertook a Master’s in Environmental Science at Pune University and a Ph.D. at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc). My fieldwork took me to the Western Ghats, where I spent a lot of time in the evergreen forests of Goa, Karnataka, and Maharashtra. My research focused on butterfly populations, their behaviour, resource distribution, and how they respond to habitat fragmentation. I would spend hours in the field, collecting data on butterflies. An experience that made field surveys unusually exciting was being charged at by domestic buffaloes!

The most interesting part of my research was identifying the species that are vulnerable to extinction due to habitat fragmentation. We found that butterflies with a smaller wingspan and specialist diet such as the plum judy and pygmy scrub hopper are more vulnerable, while generalist species like the common crow and blue tiger are less affected.

When I look back, I realise that the skills of observation and patience have been the most crucial for my research. My Ph.D. guide, Dr. Kavita Isvaran, also played an important role in teaching me the principles of study design, data analysis, and scientific writing.

Dr. Ravi Jambhekar is an urban biodiversity specialist, a natural history painter and a botanical artist.

Dr. Ravi Jambhekar is an urban biodiversity specialist, a natural history painter and a botanical artist. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Enter art

Coming to illustrating, I always enjoyed drawing as a hobby, but never considered it professionally. It all started when a senior botanist asked me to create a diagram for his paper publication on a new plant species that he had discovered. I immersed myself in library books, which helped me create scientific illustrations. While out in the field, I would use the latter half of the day, when the butterflies are generally inactive, to sketch. I would practise regularly and make a sketch or small paintings of whatever I would come across: butterflies, birds, flowers, trees, and more. Watercolour on paper has generally been my go-to medium but I’ve recently started exploring digital illustrations as well.

Thanks to these different experiences, combining science and art has now become a key part of my work. By integrating visual media and scientific principles, I can communicate science more effectively and reach a wider audience. This not only eases the way we create awareness about nature conservation but also helps us reach the public.

My current role as an ecologist at the Indian Institute for Human Settlements is quite academic. In the Urban Fellows Programme, I teach youth from all over the country about the impact of urbanisation on birds and butterflies and how we can include nature-based solutions in cities.

I would encourage you to pursue a career in Ecology as there are many opportunities in this field, with new and expanding organisations offering various roles. What we’ve got to do is put our skillset to the right use. Remember, small things can make a huge difference!

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