Kathleen Morrison, School of Arts and Sciences Biological and Cultural Diversity of South Indian Landscapes

Full Project Title

Biological and Cultural Diversity of South Indian Landscapes: Histories, Conservation, and Livelihoods

Principal Investigator

Kathleen Morrison
Anthropology, School of Arts and Sciences

Project Abstract

In its 2012 inscription of India’s Western Ghats as a World Heritage Monument, UNESCO noted the critical role of these uplands on the Indian monsoon system and the exceptionally high level of biological diversity of the region. One of the earth’s eight ‘hottest hotspots’ of biological diversity, the tropical forests of the Ghats are home to at least 325 globally threatened flora, fauna, bird, amphibian, reptile and fish species as well as charismatic fauna such as tigers and elephants. When we consider the nearby grasslands, semiarid savannas, and coastal regions that have long been connected to the uplands, the diversity and abundance of 'nature' in peninsular India is truly remarkable. At the same time, these diverse peninsular environments are also deeply humanized landscapes. South Indian natures and peoples are historically co-constituted, meaning that their analysis requires the methods of the sciences, social sciences, and humanities. A long history of human land use sets the stage for the diversity of languages, cultures, and livelihoods in the region today.

In this interdisciplinary collaboration, we seek to better understanding of the interconnected relationships between human and natural histories, past and present. Such understandings are critical to addressing contemporary conflicts over resource use, development initiatives, conservation, and to future human and nonhuman flourishing, including adaptation to socioeconomic and climate changes. Analyzing the socio natural matrix of this important region requires new foundational research in archaeology, anthropology, history, and ecology, as well as collaboration and capacity-building with a range of Indian partners. Research on the long-term, entwined histories of human land use, society, disease, population history, and patterns of biodiversity and vegetation structure will be critical for the ongoing projects of our partners, which are centered on issues such as forest-based livelihoods, conservation, and human health.