1. Conservation and sustainable management of medicinal plants
Research focus is on conservation (ex-situ and in-situ) of medicinal plants to promote health and nutritional securities of communities in both rural and urban areas. Using a range of tools and techniques such as ecological niche modelling to genomic analyses, the research team focuses issues such as diversity, distribution, impacts of trade and climate variation, use in local health traditions, assessing the phyto-chemical parameters and reproductive biology of such species in sustainably managing and using the resources.
2. Valuation of ecosystem goods and services
With focus on sacred groves and forest ecosystem, the provisional and cultural services provided by the ecosystems are assessed to understand the economic value and potential to contribute to local livelihoods and health securities. Comprehensive assessment of services such as water retention, soil resilience and management of goods such as non-timber forest produce is being undertaken to support conservation and development actions.
3. Use of GIS, remote sensing and space technology for conservation and development
The focus of research by the Group working on use of remote sensing and geographical information systems is to use the technologies, combined with ground-truthing, to assess the density and distribution of rare and threatened species spread across the Eastern and Western Ghats in India. Second generation Medicinal Plant Conservation Areas (MPCAs) are being designated and studied using the technologies. In addition, Ecological niche Modelling (ENM) studies are also underway to address issues of understanding endemism and ecological behaviour of select species. Currently, the Group is working on use of big data analytics to improve understanding of ecological and evolutionary parameters within select ecosystems. The University is a part of the National Environmental Information Management System of Government of India and has contributed to the work of Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) through providing high quality maps and distribution parameters of medicinal plants and other species using the BHUVAN platform created by ISRO.
4. Sustainability studies
Considering close to two decades of research experience on issues of conservation and sustainable use, the research team at TDU has developed Good Practice Guidelines (GPG) for sustainable use, harvesting and management of more than fifty endemic, rare and endangered species. In the absence of specific, species based protocols on sustainable use of biodiversity, the group currently is linking ground-level actions with national and international policies (such as the Addis Ababa Principles of Sustainable Use) and revising the protocols, to be used globally, on sustainable harvesting and use. Research to link sustainable use is also linked to studies on improving local livelihoods, capacity building of frontline forest staff and empowering communities in dealing with value-addition actions as well.
5. Natural resource management and governance
Governance of natural resources is a key area of research interest for faculty at the University. Research activities range from substantiating the fact that communities have tested regimes of managing the ‘common’s to supporting implementation of the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 in the country. The researchers at the University have developed a range of protocols and good practice guidelines on community governance structures over the ecosystems and biodiversity and have pioneered training and capacity building of range of stakeholders on actions such as development of Peoples’ Biodiversity Registers (PBRs), Community Health Registers (CHRs), guidelines for dealing with ‘commons’ and policy support to issues such as access to genetic resources and benefit sharing. Ongoing research include developing tool kits for local self-governance systems for forest produce, integrated production systems and the related.
6. Trade and Economic Development
Researchers at the University have pioneered studies on role and relevance of commodity trade and legal trade in biological resources, especially medicinal plants, on conservation action. Research undertaken at the University focus on assessing the trade volumes and pricing of medicinal plants, their links to trade policy, impacts of lack of Harmonised System of Classification (HSC) for exports of biological resources and the related. Researchers from TDU are currently presiding over national policy platforms that decide on strengthening links between conservation and trade actions as well as using trade data to enhance economic well-being of communities by linking with markets. Ongoing research include supporting policy analyses at global level on ‘BioTrade’, access to genetic resources and benefit sharing, developing HSC codes for medicinal plants and supporting work through UNCTAD and WTO.
7. Plant bio-systematics and ethno-botany studies
Researchers at the University have established India’s first bio-cultural National Herbarium of medicinal plants having more than 40,000 specimens along with a raw drug depository with specimens of botanical drugs making the University a unique referral for profiling the botanicals in the country. An online catalogue of 6560 species with multi-dimensional data comprising nomenclature correlations, vernacular names, geographical distribution, digital imaging and medical system tags has also been developed. Research through ethno-botanical studies have resulted in collection and growing of more than 1400 critically endangered species at the University and development of propagation protocols for several of them. The group working on ethno-botany has worked on documenting more than 3500 ethno-botanical practises in the country.
Special focus of research is on ethno-veterinary medical practices that has now resulted in formulations that have been tested and ready to go to market to treat animal diseases like mastitis. The group has documented 450 ethno-veterinary formulations from 60 knowledgeable healers from different ethnic communities. The research also focuses on documentation of primary health care knowledge from various tribal communities of 7 states of India.
8. Traditional Knowledge Systems
The TDU has developed a unique methodology of documentation, validation and application of immense traditional knowledge available on wild species and their harvest. The knowledge ranges from distribution, phenology, climate and productivity, animal interaction, regeneration, propagation, cultural relevance and harvesting methods. This time-tested knowledge has led to the research on developing sustainable harvesting protocols and to conserve species of conservation concern and high traded. Mainstreaming of such knowledge through documentation of PBRs and biocultural protocols enables the local community to entitle on benefit sharing.
9. Climate change adaptation and mitigation
Focusing on issues of climate adaptation and mitigation, research of TDU focuses on issues of role of traditional knowledge and practices that impact action on the ground, impact of climate variability on medicinal plant diversity and density, role of conservation areas in dealing with forestry systems – including impacts of REDD and the related. Currently, a pilot study on linking observational studies on climate variation with resource availability using traditional healers from India is underway.