Conservation biology




V. Deepak  Ph.D.

Research Associate @ Newcastle University, Newcastle NE1 4LB

Humboldt fellow @ Senckenberg Natural History Collections, Königsbrücker Landstraße 159, Dresden 01109 

Scientific Associate @ Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, South Kensington,  London  SW7 5BD

Research projects

National geographic Society grant. 2020–2022

Ongoing project on sky island herpetofauna in the Western Ghats.

The publication of this booklet (freePDF) and of some of the underlying research (field surveys between 2020–2022) was funded by

the National Geographic Society grant NGS-63816R-19. We described two new geckos (1, 2) collected during the surveys for this project, we resolve systematic relationships of some southern western ghats endemic reptiles (3).

Humboldt Fellowship. 2021– 2022

Conservation genetics of turtles using ancient DNA.

Squamate systematics. Funded in part by MCSA, American Museum of Natural History, Collection study grants  

My access to museum collections in Europe and USA through the MSCA funding also meant an untapped resource for my taxonomic and systematics skillset. In the last few years in collaboration with various researchers from Asia and Africa I was able to contribute to the field of squamate systematics and taxonomy. We described a whole new subfamily of snakes from India (1). We described eleven new species of snakes, mostly natricines (2, 3, 4) but also pareids (5), colubrids (6) and xenodermids (7) and a new genus from Borneo (8). We provided molecular data for some poorly known snakes from Asia (9, 10, 11, 12).

2017–2019: Phenotypic and lineage diversification of natricine snakes. Funded by the European Union. Horizon 2020 

My unsuccessful Marie-Curie application (MCSA) was on another group snakes (Uropeltidae) which I applied for in 2015. The following year I applied to MCSA on a completely different group of snakes (Natricines) and topic (MSCA). This project helped me accumulate data not just on natricines but on various other south Asian taxa (see project below). My first paper from this project investigated the phylogenetic relationship of the poorly known sub-Saharan African Natricines and the Seychelles endemic genus Lycognathophis (1). Using multilocus data we first tried to generate a well resolved phylogeny and dated the phylogeny using fossil calibrations. 

We found out that Lycognathophis reached Seychelles by overseas dispersal and that this taxon is not a Gondwanan relic. We also found that there was barely any genetic variation in Lycognathophis samples collected from different islands in Seychelles (1). For the second paper from this study we generated molecular data and built a much larger phylogeny including 75% of all named species in this subfamily (2). I also gathered natural history data from literature. With these two large datasets we were able to map key natural-history traits onto the phylogeny, investigate historical biogeography, and test hypotheses associated with diversification rates and reproductive evolution (2). 

One of the main goals of this project was to evaluate phenotypic diversification in natricines. We used the trait data set we published earlier (2) and generated morphometric measurements for a few hundred natricine snakes (3). We found evidence for convergence in head shape for different habit categories (3). There are few dietary specialists and in one case clearly diet had played a role in their unique head shape (3).

2013–2016: Phylogeography and molecular systematics of “Darwin’s lizard” the Sitana ponticeriana complex in the Indian Subcontinent” Funded by Department of Biotechnology, Government of India

When I first wrote this proposal for the Department of Biotechnology (India) there were four species of fan-throated lizards (Sitana) known from the Indian subcontinent, one from Pondicherry, India and the remaining three from the Terai of Nepal. We discovered that the diversification in these lizards closely matches the aridification in this region (1). We used multiple species delimitation methods to identify species (1). Thorough investigation of external and internal anatomy led to discovery of one new genus and six new species of fan-throated lizards (2). Over the years with additional collaborators I described four more species based on external morphology and genetics (3,4,5). 

2006–2011: Ecology of two endemic turtles in the Western Ghats . Funded by Ministry of Environment and Forest Grant-in-Aid, India  (PhD research).

Out of the three endemic turtles in peninsular India two (Indotestudo elongata and Vijayachelys silvatica) are terrestrial and restricted to Western Ghats, the third is an aquatic species (Nilssonia leithii). In this project as a researcher I collected data on the natural history, home range and movement pattern of two terrestrial species in Anamalai hills in two protected areas (Anamalai and Parambikulam Tiger Reserves). Until then there was barely any information on these two species. We were able to identify the diet of the species (1,2) and understand movement patterns (3). Indotestudo travancorica is a rare species to sample due to its cryptic habit and low abundance (4). We also found out that both detection probability and occupancy is low for this species in areas with higher human activities inside the protected areas. Travancore tortoises preferred to stay on edge habitats between grassland and forests (4).