Aishwarya Bhattacharjee is a Ph.D. student in biology who was born in India and raised in Thailand and Bangladesh. She studies at the City University of New York, where she works in Dr. José Anadón’s lab at Queens College. The lab specializes in evaluating the effect of global change on the ecosystem to understand how community distributions and different biomes will be impacted. Bhattacharjee is assisting Anadón in his work for IPM IL’s Climate Change and Biodiversity project in Nepal.
Q1) Can you tell me a little about yourself? Where you’re from, your education background, your main areas of research?
A1) I am originally from and was born in India and my family moved to Thailand just before I turned two years old. I was raised and spent most of my life in Bangkok, which I call home. Given my mother’s job as a nutritionist with FAO, I travelled a bit as a child and moved to Dhaka, Bangladesh for the four years of high school where I attended the American International School of Dhaka.
I earned my BS from Rutgers University, majoring in Ecology, Evolution & Natural Resources with a minor in Biology. As an undergraduate. I worked in a few laboratories in order to gain experience in several subfields within ecology, before finding my niche. In addition to spending some time researching size dimorphism in eastern fence lizards and dietary ecology in Bornean orangutans, I conducted my honor’s thesis on temperature effects in protozoa in order to elucidate stress responses to climate change occurring within an artificially set up trophic system. Currently, my main area of research has focused on evaluating the impact of anthropogenic changes, climate change in particular, on biodiversity. The study systems I will specialize in for my thesis include rangeland, livestock, and scavenger communities.
Q2) What kind of work are you doing in Nepal right now?
A2) I am working on creating climate models, maps, and trends, in addition to performing spatial modeling of climate impacts on the biodiversity in Chitwan Annapurna Landscape of Nepal. The taxa we will be evaluating range from key crop species to scavenger species, including pests and pollinators. All these species are either directly or indirectly related to the increase in pest species within the region. A healthy scavenger community depends on livestock and primary productivity distribution, and functions as a biological control for pest species in this respect. With IPM IL’s focus on long-term prevention of pests and their damage, our research on the impact of climate change on pest species will assist in the long term implementation of such robust IPM strategies. In addition I will assist with and conduct workshops for the masters and PhD students in Nepal, related to the use of climate data, remote sensing, species distribution modeling, biodiversity sampling and scientific and technical writing.
Q3) What made you decide to go into this kind of work?
A3) Given my cultural background and upbringing, I have been exposed to the world of natural sciences and its importance from a very young age. However, despite living in one of the richest regions in the world for biodiversity, I was also increasingly aware of the threats being posed to agriculture, flora and fauna and the ecosystem as I was immersed in a society of volunteer and international NGOs focusing their efforts to this field of work. Being heavily involved in animal welfare and conservation issues, I naturally decided to major in Ecology for my undergraduate degree. I feel passionate about protecting the natural ecosystems around us and growing up in a rapidly urbanizing city forced me to face the potential impacts of the Anthropocene on our lifeline that is the natural world.
As an undergraduate, I was embedded in scientific research, which I immediately took a liking to, and quickly realized it was hard for me to specialize on a specific species but instead I found an interest in evaluating complete communities as they are influenced by global ecological shifts such as climate and land use change. While on a study abroad conducting field work on orangutans in Borneo, my passion for field work and assessing this question further developed, leading to my decision to pursue a higher education and expertise in this field.
Q4) Besides biology, what are your hobbies?
A4) Most of my hobbies, if not specifically biology, pertain to biology! I enjoy bird watching, which has definitely become my favorite study system. In hand with birding, I really value any time that I can spend just walking and hiking outside. Most recently I hiked up to the Tiger’s Nest monastery in Bhutan located off a cliff 3,100 meters above the Paro Valley, which combined two of my favorite things: traveling and visiting historic places. Some other hobbies I have include oil painting and dancing. I used to train in both ballroom dancing and a classical Indian dance called Bharatanatyam. And lastly, I am an avid foodie and enjoy trying different cuisines from around the world. My current mission is to eat my way through the culinary landscape of New York City!
Q5) Where do you see yourself in five to 10 years?
A5) I would ideally like to be in my dream job working for either an intergovernmental or non-profit international organization that focuses on the protection, conservation, and management of biodiversity at a global scale. To continue down the path of research I am currently pursuing, I see myself focusing on work related to avian systems or systems heavily impacted by anthropogenic change and using species distribution modeling tools as a technique for educated management strategies.
I would hope my work is embedded in the betterment of both the natural ecosystem and the communities living within these regions of the world in a way that promotes symbiosis. It would be great to live and/or work in such places, as I have no preference and am eager to travel and explore wherever my field takes me.