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Looking OutsideIn at Ecology

In the era where online lives are thriving for those of us with access to the internet, there is so much to interact with and learn from! Many spaces have emerged for discussion between individuals who are joined by a love of discovery. A stellar example of this is OutsideIn.


OutsideIn is a series of Ecology talks by experts in areas as diverse as our planet’s stunning biodiversity! Initiated and ideated by Prof. R. Sowdhamini of the National Centre for Biological Sciences, the sessions have brought a plethora of species into the homes of the varied audience. The sessions have covered plants, insects, and even microscopic aquatic life.


On the origins of OutsideIn, Prof. Sowdhamini says, "A few school students who are interested in science approached us to give some engaging talks during the lockdown. We felt that topics in ecology reach society easily, and can be appreciated better by a younger audience. Hence, OutsideIn emerged.” 


The inaugural session with Dr. Uma Ramakrishnan of NCBS on ‘Pandemics and Biodiversity’ struck the right chord to introduce the conversation, humans are very much a part of the larger natural ecosystem, and our actions have consequences for all the flora and fauna of the world. The topics covered by researchers ranged extensively, including animal engineering, microbial partnerships with other species, underwater noise pollution and Gangetic river dolphins, bats in the Western Ghats, branchiopod crustaceans, the chemistry of plants, animal communication, dogs, birds, and insects. 


Concluding with Dr. Meghna Krishnadas of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, the first set of talks came full circle to discussing trees and forests--a vital preserver of biodiversity! When asked about the role of these sessions, Dr. Krishnadas said, “I think ecology offers good opportunities to introduce young minds to science. Ecology offers a different perspective on the life of a scientist, which is often considered to be in the lab. Being out in nature can be stimulating in itself. To know how natural ecosystems work can help students grasp how complex problems can be understood using a systematic approach.” 


What draws people back every week? It seems that there is joy in the process of discovering our environment and fellow organisms built into this set of talks. And with the added allure of the opportunity to ask an expert live, it all seems to be too good to miss. This is seen with our audience of all ages, from children as young as 10 to our more senior citizens in their 60s! “I feel the talks are not just about sharing information or facts that are available online, there is an element of curiosity and the wonder of life in these sessions. The way the speakers are expressing their passion, and taking us through their work makes it very enriching. And the people who are attending are also asking the scientists a lot of thoughtful questions. I look forward to it every week!” says Surabhi Okkunda, a teacher who has joined almost all the sessions of OutsideIn so far, and even uses information from the sessions in her science classes with school students.


From wondrous examples of the mating and parenting behaviours of various organisms, we know that humans are not the only ones with complicated social lives. The striking adaptations of certain organisms to changes in their environment, and the evolution of so many incredible partnerships, defences, and behaviours among plants and animals is a treasure trove for exploration! The audience of OutsideIn gets to discover that, either in the live Sunday morning sessions, or on Youtube later on.


These talks by ecologists in diverse fields have created a fun and varied set of discussions on the world of flora and fauna. These are all available on the Bangalore Life Science Cluster’s Youtube Channel. The series continues in October with talks by ecologists who study biodiversity in many different parts of the world. As we all know, exploring the life around us is a lovely pursuit for Sunday mornings!


Image credit: Moumita Mazumdar and Raghul MR