It was an accident that I chanced upon working with plants and the environment. As far as I remember when I was an undergrad I was extremely good at remembering taxonomic names. I owe all of what I am doing today to my undergrad professor for picking up on my interest and send me running along that way. My passion for plant grew and in no time I was guiding high school students at local parks learning about taxonomy and plants. It has been an long and wonderful journey. I am very happy that I have been able to make plants my career. It just feels like one of the most rewarding jobs to have. After having collaborated with Keystone Foundation in the Nilgiri Hills of southern India I became very interested in cycads and the intricate association that plants and people possess. Ethnobotany was a very interesting terminology that stood for a whole lot of associations between culture, botany and the ever-changing environment. This period led to my doctoral dissertation.
About my research:
Harvest of Non Timber Forest Products (NTFPs) has been frequently studied as a means to conserve forests and provide income to user communities, often with the assumption that harvest has relatively little ecological impact. Cycas circinalis L. and Cycas indica Lindstrom & Hill are such NTFPs extensively harvested from the Western Ghats, South India. They are harvested for pith, leaves, seeds and male cones by indigenous people for food, cultural and medicinal purposes, while commercially harvested for the medicinal and floricultural industries. Although indigenous people have a long association with Cycas spp, harvest for sale in the national market has been uncontrolled over the past 5-6 years. Cycas circinalis is now regionally listed as ‘critically endangered’ and internationally listed as a ‘data deficient’ species. Cycas spp have ancient lineages from the Jurassic age, being long-lived and slow-growing, and this coupled with intensive extraction reduces the chances for populations to rapidly revive themselves after the induced stress of harvest. In an attempt to understand the uses and responses of these species to harvest pressures, this proposal aims to document the trade, ethnobotany, life history, and population dynamics of Cycas spp. Specifically, I will 1) identify markets and trade patterns of Cycas spp, 2) document the different ethnobotanical uses, methods and quantities of harvest, 3) determine the effects of leaf/pith and seed harvest on population dynamics and phenology of C. indica and C. circinalis populations and 4) conduct germination trials with the potential of establishing sustainable use nurseries. A detailed understanding of trade patterns and of the factors affecting population dynamics in different harvest and habitat types is critical to implement protection of these species.