Dr. Suneeti Jog, assistant professor of biology at The University of Texas at Tyler, has received a research grant from the National Geographic Society, Dr. Arlene Horne, associate vice president for research and federal relations, announced.
The $20,000 one-year award is sponsored by the society, which is one of the largest non-profit scientific and educational institutions in the world.
Collaborating with colleagues in India, Jog will document various plant species in the Western Ghats, a mountain range along India's west coast.
"We propose a thorough inventory leading to a comprehensive checklist, a vouchered herbarium collection and a Web site depicting photographs and descriptions of all vascular plants of certain pockets within the Western Ghats in the states of Maharashtra and Karnataka," said Jog. "We envision discovering and documenting species previously unknown to science and assessing the present status of this ecosystem to aid conservation efforts."
The Western Ghats is a biodiversity hotspot and home to varied habitats. According to Jog, a few floristic studies have been conducted in certain pockets revealing a rich flora, while some local scientists have documented species thought to be extirpated or not recorded for almost a century.
"Inaccessibility due to steep terrain, complex topography and heavy monsoon rains makes it an understudied area with potential for harboring endemic plant species not known to science," Jog said. "Rapid population growth and anthropogenic pressures threaten this ecosystem. Inhabitants of the numerous villages situated all along this mountain range use plant materials obtained from these forests in unique ways. This knowledge is in danger of being lost due to influence of urbanization."
The project will serve the dual purpose of documenting biodiversity along with bringing recognition of indigenous ethno-botanical practices of India, Jog said.
"Many of these ethno-botanical uses are not well documented and unfamiliar to urban dwellers and peoples of other countries," she added. "In a world of depleting biodiversity and natural resources, we see an imperative need to document and preserve this wealth."
A faculty member since 2006, Jog holds a Ph.D. in regulatory biology from Cleveland State University-Ohio and a master of science degree in botany with a specialization in cytogenetics and plant breeding from the University of Mumbai, India. Her memberships include Botanical Society of America, Society for Economic Botany and the Texas Native Plant Society.