Andhra Pradesh

Zoological Society of London honour for A.P. scientist

Shabuddin Shaik collecting samples inside a cave in Meghalaya.

Shabuddin Shaik collecting samples inside a cave in Meghalaya.  

For millions of years, these tiny creatures have thrived in the darkest of places. But they give us insights into life before the Continental Drift, says biospeleologist (cave biologist) Shabuddin Shaik. Biospeleology is still in its infancy in the country.

A faculty member of the Acharya Nagarjuna University, Dr. Shaik has several firsts to his credit.

He has to his credit the discovery of 40 new cave fauna species, including five new genera.

One micro-crustacean discovered by him even has his name — Andhracoides shabuddin.

Dr. Shaik has worked extensively in the caves of the undivided Andhra Pradesh, including the Belum and Borra caves, which are major tourist attractions.

He found the micro-crustacean named after him in the Guthikonda cave in Guntur district. Based on his work, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), which has had Fellows like Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace and Ernst Mayr, has nominated Dr. Shaik for its fellowship.

Accidental discovery

The way he discovered the Isopod (crustacean) named after himself is very interesting. He was looking for tiny creatures in a pool of water in the Guthikonda Cave. The water was clear. He felt that some creature was crawling on his leg, and to shake it off he stepped into the water. His sudden entry disturbed the water and it turned milky white with tiny creatures. “I collected the sample and when I tried to identify it in the lab, I found it to be new species,” Dr. Shaik said.

Later, he found another micro-crustacean of the same genus, Andhracoides (named after Andhra Pradesh), in Belum cave and named it after German Speleologist Herbert Daniel Gebauer, who mapped the famous cave.

Boost to research

Unlike the Belum cave, Borra cave is not in the ground but inside a hill. It goes three to four storeys down and opens to the Gostani River, which flows at the foot of the hill, Dr. Shaik explained.

He said that the ZSL fellowship was a boost to taxonomy and biodiversity research in India. These frontier areas of research have been neglected.

Fellow biospeleologist and mentor Y. Ranga Reddy says the very fact that Dr. Shaik could discover 40 new species proved that the Indian caves support rich, unique and highly diversified phylogenetically and biogeographically significant fauna that will throw light on the evolution of various life forms that are millions of years old.

Undiscovered fauna

Dr. Shaik says that 3,169 species have been identified in the caves of the world, but more than 94% of cave fauna was waiting to be discovered.

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Printable version | Sep 23, 2020 3:26:52 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/andhra-pradesh/zoological-society-of-london-honour-for-ap-scientist/article24999844.ece

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