Now beginning my third year of studying a PhD with WildCRU and Oxford’s Mathematical Institute, my PhD continues to be a metamorphic journey through abstract and applied mathematics, ecology, and (most recently) geography. The premise of this research has been to draw upon methods and ways of thinking from different realms of mathematics to shine new light on questions in ecology, the focus of which thus far has been in the fields of community ecology and movement ecology. My supervisors for this project are Sam Cushman and Philip Maini, and it has been a deep privilege to undertake this work and to have encountered so many wonderful people along the way.
Our investigations in community ecology have involved studying a camera trap dataset from Borneo, recruiting ideas from the mathematical realms of geometry and topology and combining these with simulation techniques to gain a deeper understanding of the relationship (in a quantitative sense) between animals and their environment. And in movement ecology, after studying a GPS telemetry dataset of lion movement paths from Hwange National Park, we have been developing a model to simulate individual animal movement paths through landscapes, and are using this model to compare the abilities of various widely used methods for predicting landscape connectivity and resistance.
More recently, I have encountered many works from other disciplines – particularly those from geography – which feel deeply relevant to these explorations, and as such I am starting to immerse myself more in writings and conversations with people from these areas. I have also been deeply moved by the works of luminous folk like David Abram, Robin Wall Kimmerer, and Thich Nhat Hanh, who in their own beautiful ways explore the felt, sensorial, embodied and experiential dimensions of relating to the world, touching things which lie beyond the realm of the quantifiable. Within me, this has given rise to a profound desire to bodily understand and experience how this multiplicity of ways of being in and understanding the world may be woven together, how they may nourish each other, and what mysteries, wonders and adventures are to be found when they lie in balance with one another.
Kumar, S.U., Maini, P.K., Chiaverini, L., Hearn, A.J., Macdonald, D.W., Kaszta, Ż. and Cushman, S.A., 2021. Smoothing and the environmental manifold. Ecological Informatics, p.101472.
Unnithan Kumar, S., Turnbull, J., Hartman Davies, O., Cushman, S., & Hodgetts, T. (2022). Minimal Ecologies. Digital Ecologies blog, 23 Februar.
Unnithan Kumar S, Kaszta Ż, Cushman SA. Pathwalker: A New Individual-Based Movement Model for Conservation Science and Connectivity Modelling. ISPRS International Journal of Geo-Information. 2022; 11(6):329.