I was born on 1st May 1975 in Peerumadu, a hilly village in the Western Ghats of Idukki district in the south Indian state of Kerala.
I am the child of a civil servant and was educated in different schools in different districts. I went to school in Vellikulam, Vagamon of Idukki district, High School Karippur in Nedumangad, Thiruvananthapuram, Higher Secondary School in Malampuzha and Government Moyan Model Girls High School in Palakkad district. I received my Pre Degree, Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees from Government Victoria College in Palakkad.
I have a keen interest in taxonomy and was influenced by Dr. K. Murugan, a lecturer in taxonomy. He inculcated my interest in doing moss taxonomy, and I spent my free time examining bryophyte specimens. After completing my Masters I then pursued a bachelor’s degree in Education, after which I moved to Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI) in Peechi, Thrissur district of Kerala, where I took up a Project Fellow position. This involved documenting the biodiversity of Kerala. While collecting literature on bryophyte taxonomy I found that very few studies had been conducted on bryophytes of the Western Ghats. At the time there was no one suited to supervise bryophyte-related research for PhD studies. So my project mentor Dr. P.S. Easa suggested I reach out to Prof. (Dr.) P.V. Madhusoodanan at University of Calicut who is a well-known Pteridologist. He was very happy to guide me but advised that I would have to do the work on my own. I took up the challenge and joined a Ph.D. programme in 2001. The title of my thesis was ‘Eco-Systematic studies on Bryophytes of Wayanad, Kerala’.
During the course of my Ph.D program, I connected with many reputable bryologists, both nationally and internationally, who helped me with my research and to complete my Ph.D. on time. During the World Conference of Bryologist at the National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI), Lucknow in 2002, I met several bryologists like Dr. Goffinet, Dr. Zen Iwatsuki, Dr. Beata Pap, Dr. Sanna Huttunen, Dr. Virendra Nath, Dr. A.K. Asthana, Dr. Ajit Pratap Singh, Dr. S.C. Srivastava, and Dr. D.K. Singh, to name a few. I stayed on for a few more days at NBRI after the conference and studied the basics of identification, herbarium specimen preparation and collected literature pertaining to taxonomy. During this time, I also had the opportunity to stay with Dr. Beata Pap, Herbarium Curator from Budapest, Hungary, and had good discussions with her on bryophytes. She introduced me to Dr. Tamas Pocs who helped identify and confirm several specimens during my Ph.D. work. Other bryologists who helped me with specimen identification included the late Dr. Frahm, Dr. Bill Buck, Dr. Jesus Munoz, and Dr. L.T. Ellis. Dr. L.T. Ellis, who is the Curator of bryophytes at the Natural History Museum (BM) also helped me with loan specimens for clarification. After my Ph.D. I had built a strong, healthy bond with bryologists from all over the world. One of the biggest challenges I found during my research period was the lack of literature on bryophytes of Western Ghats. Support by the Linnean Society, in the form of an award, helped me procure many books and resources on Bryology.
I published my thesis as a book in 2005. This book has helped many students and teachers with their studies. After my Ph.D. I received a Young Scientist award from the Department of Science and Technology (DST) Fast Track Scheme and joined the Postdoctoral Fellowship (PDF) program with the Botany Department of Calicut University. My research topic was ‘Systematic and Molecular (RAPD) studies on mosses of Southern Western Ghats’. During this tenure I published on three new species and several new additions of bryophytes to Western Ghats. After the PDF I moved to Zamorins Guruvayurappan College, Kozhikode as a Guest Faculty. Six months after this I received funding from the KSCSTE (Kerala State Council for Science, Technology and Environment) ‘Back-to-Lab’ scheme for women scientists, to conduct research on the topic ‘Systematic studies on the bryophytes of Northern Western Ghats’, at Malabar Botanical Garden (MBG), Calicut. Five months later I got a permanent position as Assistant Professor at Zamorin’s Guruvayurappan College (ZGC). After getting the permanent faculty position on 16th March 2011, the funding agency of the ‘Back-to-Lab’ scheme converted my role to Principal Investigator of the project and provided one fellow at Malabar Botanical Garden. The project was successfully completed by 14th October 2013. I was actively involved in the research activities of the Malabar Botanical Garden and was given an additional project from the KSCSTE Ecology and Environment scheme, on the ‘Exploration, taxonomic characterization and establishment of Conservation Repository of Bryophytes of Kerala’. Through this project we were able to construct a conservatory for bryophytes at MBG and conserved several species of bryophytes from Western Ghats. Despite my busy teaching schedule, I made time for studying bryophytes. Several papers were published and presented in conferences and symposia. In 2013, I submitted another project proposal on ‘Systematic and molecular characterisation of the family Fissidentaceae (Bryophyta) of Western Ghats’ to the DST Fast Track scheme with Zamorin’s Guruvayurappan College as the research centre. Prior to this in 2012, my application for Research Guideship at Calicut University was successful so the fellow who joined in the aforementioned project was able to continue with her Ph.D. In 2016 the project was completed, and the project fellow continued her work till 2018 when she submitted her Ph.D. In 2016, I submitted another project to KSCSTE Science Research Scheme titled ‘Taxonomy of Bryophytes of Peechi-Vazhani Wildlife Sanctuary’ and completed this by 2019. During the course of these projects five students enrolled in Ph.D. programmes on different topics. Ms. Prajitha, who was the Project Fellow in the KSCSTE Back-to-Lab programme registered for Ph.D. on the topic ‘Bryophytes of Malabar Wildlife Sanctuary’, and Mr. Rejilesh V.K. who worked on the Conservatory project researched the topic ‘Bryophytes of Mathikettan Shola National Park’. Both were registered at MBG. The other three Ph.D. students were registered at ZGC. Deepa K.M. studied Marchantiales of South India, Chandini V.K. studied Lejeuneaceae of Kerala and Mufeed B. studied the taxonomy of bryophytes of Anamudi Shola National Park. In 2021 we published the work of Dr. Mufeed and in 2022 the work by Dr. Manjula K.M. as books.
Many bryologists from all over the world have helped me with identification and confirmation of several species. This includes Dr. M. A. Bruggeman-Nannenga of Netherlands; Mr. Uwe Schwarz of Germany; Dr L.T. Ellis, Senior Curator, Natural History Museum; Dr. A.E. Dulip Daniels, Dean & Professor, Scott Christian College, Nagercoil, Tamil Nadu; Dr. D.K. Singh, Senior Scientist (Rtd.); Dr. Devendra Singh, Botanical Survey of India, Kolkata; Dr. A.K. Asthana, Principal Scientist & Group Leader, Bryology Laboratory, CSIR- National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow.
I have published more than 100 research papers in national and international journals and presented several papers in conferences and symposia. I have also published around 15 species as new to science and several new records of species to Asia, India, Western Ghats and Kerala. Since March 2022, I am continuing my passionate research on bryophytes at my alma mater, the Department of Botany, University of Calicut.
List of publications: