Biodiversity is unevenly distributed in space and time, and biologists seek to explain the generalities and exceptions. North East India (NEI) is very rich in biodiversity. Previously this was thought to be because it is a gateway between the Himalaya and IndoBurma regions. These two latter regions are considered biodiversity conservation hotspots, with the boundary between them running through NEI.
It was a major surprise therefore when the applicant discovered and named a new family of amphibians (Chikilidae) that is endemic to NEI, has been evolving here for 10s of millions of years, and has its closest living relatives in Africa. This newly discovered major lineage has demanded i) that the new family is thoroughly characterized and understood in the broader context of amphibian evolution, ii) that the generality of the historical biogeography of Chikilidae is tested using independent but broadly similar lineages, and iii) that the environmental and biological history of NEI is reassessed, especially the implications for recognising biogeographic units and demarcating hotspots.
The applicant will address these issues by a) analysing the internal anatomy, life-history, distribution and genetic variation of Chikilidae in a comparative context, b) inferring the phylogeny and biogeographic history of two other soil-dwelling vertebrates with overlapping distributions – ichthyophiid amphibians and swamp eels, and c) determining to what extent the two lineages resemble Chikilidae in having radiated in NEI for a long period.
The applicant is a world expert on NEI and Indian amphibians. The hosts run the world’s leading caecilian biology research group. The host institution has state-of-the-art facilities (specimen collections, genetics, morphological imaging labs) and several experts with overlapping expertise. The project will address questions of broad relevance in evolution and conservation, and build long-term collaborative links between Europe and India.
Fields of science
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