Mansi Mungee, PhD
Research Fellow in Insect Ecology
Drivers and Repercussions of UK Insect Declines (DRUID)
School of Geography, Faculty of Environment
University of Leeds (UK)
Radar entomology | Aeroecology | Community ecology | Biodiversity patterns | Photogrammetry | Machine Learning | Remote Sensing | Phylogenetics
My overarching research interests are community ecology, biogeography, biodiversity patterns and processes, particularly for insects and birds. I am also keen on developing novel methods that integrate machine learning and pattern recognition to generate ecologically meaningful data from field and/or museum digital collections of insects.
In my current position as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Leeds, I am employing an exciting and innovative approach to biodiversity monitoring that taps into the wealth of information available from weather surveillance radars across the UK (BioDAR). Additionally, I am developing novel process-based models to assess spatio-temporal drivers of community assembly in freshwater insects across the UK (DRUID).
The breadth of my interest stems primarily from my doctoral work where I integrated several seemingly independent disciplines within community ecology to compare the patterns in diversity and assembly for two disparate, but interdependent animal groups - hawkmoths and birds along an east Himalayan elevational gradient. I compared patterns in alpha & beta diversity (taxonomic, functional & phylogenetic), relative abundance distributions, trait-environment relationship (sensu Bergmann’s Rule), and community assembly. Apart from generating high quality abundance based data-sets from a little-explored biodiversity hotspot, a major contribution from my PhD research was the development of a novel photogrammetric method for obtaining morphological traits of nocturnal phototrophic insects from digital images. More details can be obtained from here.
ACADEMIC & PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE
Doctor of Philosophy (Ecology; 2011 – 2018)
Indian Institute of Science Education & Research, Pune (Maharashtra)
Master of Science (Life Sciences; 2007 – 2010)
Narsee Monje Institute of Management Science, Mumbai (Maharashtra)
Bachelor of Science (Microbiology; 2004 - 2007)
University of Pune
Research Fellow in Insect Ecology (2021 – Ongoing)
Drivers and Repurcussions of UK Insect Declines (DRUID)
School of Geography, Faculty of Environment
University of Leeds
DRUID is a large multi-collaborative effort between University of Leeds, University of Reading, UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and the Rothamsted Institute that aims to provide undisputed evidence on insect declines (or lack thereof) for the UK. It will bring together multiple currencies of biomass, abundance, occupancy, species diversity and morphodiversity to quantitatively assess temporal trends in insects of the UK. Using these data, DRUID will assess the drivers of change in terrestrial and aquatic insect populations and communities and fully quantify the links between these populations and natural capital. For more information please visit our webpage at https://druidproject.org.uk/
Research Associate (2019 – 2021)
Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun
As a senior project biologist (Research Associate) at the Wildlife Institute of India, I was in charge of two interrelated landscape-level components of a UNDP-GEF funded project titled “SECURE-Himalaya” - (I) Developing human-wildlife conflict management strategies for the alpine villages of Uttarakhand Himalaya, and (ii) Developing holistic landscape management strategies for the high altitude (> 2500 m) Himalayan landscapes in the state of Uttarakhand (northwest India). I often face criticism for choosing a research program with objectives related to applied ecology, forest management and policy making, which are dramatically different from my background and training thus far (community ecology). At a fundamental level, while working as a doctoral student with Ramana I learnt how to strive to becoming a good scientist, I always felt myself lacking in confidence when interacting with the forest department officials. I wanted to understand the system better, in order to work in tandem with them in the future. WII offered me the opportunity, and everyday was a rewarding experience
Senior Research Fellow / Doctoral Student (2011 – 2018)
Indian Institute of Science Education & Research (IISER), Pune
I submitted my PhD thesis at IISER (Pune) in January 2019. My doctoral work was carried out in consultation with Dr. Ramana Athreya, who is an astronomer by training and holds a dual faculty position in the Departments of Physics and Biology at IISER. Notwithstanding the initial challenges, I must be grateful to his background in astrophysics that has made me comfortable in handling and analyzing large data-sets. In my doctoral work, I present a comparative study of the diversity profiles of two disparate organismal groups – Lepidoptera: Sphingidae (hawkmoths) and Aves (birds) – along an elevational gradient spanning 200-2800m in the eastern Himalayas of Arunachal Pradesh, India. We recorded 4,731 hawkmoth individuals from 13 elevations between 200-2800 m, spanning 80 morpho-species and 30 genera. We reliably measured body and wing sizes for 3302 individuals using field images, after correcting for image distortions, one of the largest and systematic compilation of insect trait data from a single locality, and achieved without having to collect specimens (and the consequent allocation of large amount of resources for their preparation and maintenance). For birds, line transects at 48 elevations yielded 15,867 individual records spanning 235 species, 150 genera and 48 families. We obtained species mean body mass and wing span data from literature. We also carried out a similar sampling of birds during winter but is not presented in this thesis. We have investigated two important facets of diversity, viz. species and (functional) traits using multiple measures available for each (e.g. alpha diversity, beta diversity, evenness, etc.). It is hoped that this study would contribute to the growing field of identifying the taxon-specific and taxon-independent factors impacting diversity. Apart from the species diversity profiles, I also explored and compared functional diversity, and explored multiple facets for both – alpha, beta, evenness and species relative abundance distributions. I also developed high throughput cost efficient NGS library preparation protocols for our lab. I would be happy to share a more detailed technical synopsis of my doctoral work, if required. I humbly acknowledge that much of my PhD work was exploratory. Ramana and I were both ‘learning’ ecology and describing various patterns (alpha & beta diversity, species relative abundance profiles, trait-environment relationship, etc) seemed like a good way to go about it. I like to think of my PhD as Community Ecology – 101!! During a postdoctoral tenure, I would be interested in focusing exclusively on ascribing the observed patterns to an ecological process. Writing four manuscripts over the last two years has already bridged this gap to a large extent and I look forward to bettering my skills in this direction.
Internship (2010 – 2011)
Indian Institute of Science Education & Research, Pune
During my one year as an intern with Ramana, I prepared an inventory / checklist for the hawkmoths (Lepidoptera: Sphingidae) of Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, Arunacha Pradesh. The identification keys developed during this project, as well as reference images, are freely available at http://www.iiserpune.ac.in/~rathreya/MothSph/MothSphingidae.html. This work provided the essential baseline data that was subsequently built upon for my doctoral thesis. Most importantly, it allowed Ramana and I to work together and understand our strengths and weaknesses as a team, before committing to a long-term graduate program.
Postgraduate dissertation (2009 – 2010)
Sunanda Divetia School of Science, NMIMS University, Mumbai
For my one year dissertation, required as part of completion for the Master’s degree, I worked on a project titled “Isolation and identification of Heavy metal tolerant bacteria from e-waste dumping grounds around Bangalore city”. (A project I like to call "Motherboard munching bacteria!!) The work allowed me to learn and understand basic microbiological assays as well as analytical techniques such as PCRs and AAS.
AWARDS / GRANTS / CONFERENCES
Recipient of the Marie Skłodowska–Curie Postdoctoral European Seal of Excellence in 2021
Recipient of the Sundance Film Festival Grant (2021) of 35,000 USD to make a documentary on my PhD research on hawkmoths of Eaglenest. Trailer available upon request.
Recipient of the British Ecological Society International Travel Grant (2019)
Recipient of the Best poster prize at the British Ecological Society Annual Meeting, Belfast, Northern Ireland, December 2019
Conservation of the Darma-Byans Landscape: Participatory workshop for local stakeholders Dharchula (Uttarakhand), January, 2019 (Speaker & Organiser)
Conservation of the Gangotri-Govind Landscape: Participatory workshop for local stakeholders Uttarkashi (Uttarakhand) February, 2019 (Speaker & Organiser)
India – Behaviour, Evolution and Ecology Conference (March, 2016); Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand (Speaker)
Short-term workshop in molecular phylogenetics (August, 2013); IISc Bangalore (Participant)
Workshop for “Introducing GIS and remote sensing using QGIS” (20th – 23rd August, 2014); IISER, Pune (Participant)