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Madhava Meegaskumbura

With the human induced sixth mass extinction event gathering momentum, one of the greatest collective responsibilities of humanity is the prevention of loss of biodiversity. For this, an understanding of the processes that generates and maintains diversity is vitally important: determining species boundaries, when and how various species came into being, insights into their biology and natural history, understanding major interactions through space and time, correlates of extinctions. Generating such broad knowledge invariably touches many disciplines – phylogenetics and systematics, evolution, ecology, palaeontology, development and behaviour – a seemingly arduous process. Given the incongruity of our collective scientific focus and given that there are an estimated 5-10 million species on earth, a majority still unnamed, rapid species documentation and focusing on large groups to understand species-related dynamics is needed. Multi-dimensional analyses of lineage diversification patterns and processes, especially that of ecologically and climatically sensitive organisms, will provide this broad knowledge base needed for long-term conservation of not only the species but also the processes that generates and maintains and eventually naturally extinguishes this diversity.

Integrating various methods, Dr. Madhava Meegaskumbura, currently a senior lecturer at the University of Peradeniya (Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology) studies this. He has worked with the climatically and ecologically sensitive frogs, and to a lesser extent, the freshwater fish and small mammals; but with his colleagues and students, he is probing deeper, using some of the latest analytical tools. Following a Ph.D. from Boston University and a Postdoctoral Fellowship at Harvard University Centre for the Environment, he has published more than 50 research papers while describing nearly 30 species and 5 genera of frogs and fish. He serves as the IUCN/SSC Amphibian Specialist Group (ASG) co-chairman for Sri Lanka. He has received the “Belamarich Award for the outstanding Ph.D. thesis“, a “Top Ten Species Award” and several “Presidential Awards for Scientific Research”. Contributing to the dissemination of knowledge, he produces video documentaries and serves on editorial boards of two scientific journals and a university research magazine.