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Concordia MSc candidate explores the effects of COVID-19 on the global environment

While stranded in India, Arun Dayanandan witnessed virus-induced climate changes first-hand
August 6, 2020
Concordia grad student Arun Dayanandan was doing research in the Himalayas just days before India’s lockdown.
Concordia grad student Arun Dayanandan was doing research in the Himalayas just days before India’s lockdown.

Arun Dayanandan (BSc 17) was studying abroad in India when the COVID-19 lockdown struck.

“It was stressful at first,” says Dayanandan, reflecting on his experience of quarantine while away from home. The MSc candidate in biology was staying in a relatively remote region, where he says it took time for the infrastructure to catch up. Much of the normally available food was suddenly gone due to the combination of high temperatures and delivery delays from medical checkpoints.

“India is still in a nationwide lockdown, which made it challenging to plan a reliable route home,” Dayanandan adds. Fortunately, he was welcomed into the home of his professor, M. L. Khan of Dr. Harisingh Gour Central University.

“He graciously allowed me to stay with him and greatly helped navigate the uncertainty.”

The dark cloud with a silver lining

While the lockdown was unprecedented and frightening at times, Dayanandan says it actually benefited him and his fellow researchers in unexpected ways. They were uniquely positioned to witness the effects the lockdown had on the environment, having spent time in the Himalayas just days before everything closed up.

“The Himalayas could be seen from some parts of India for the first time in 30 years due to the drop in air pollution from the lockdown,” Dayanandan recalls. “This was what got us thinking about the topic that eventually became our paper.”

The collaboratively written article is part of his research fellowship supported by the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute, the Fonds de Recherche du Québec - Nature et technologies and the Quebec Centre for Biodiversity Science.

The dark cloud with a silver lining: Assessing the impact of the SARS COVID-19 pandemic on the global environment,” which Dayanandan co-authored with seven other researchers, is the first study of its kind.

“It’s a global analysis of COVID-19 cases as they relate to environmental variables, with the goal of seeing what the state of the environment is around the world, as well as predicting regions of possible future outbreaks later this year,” Dayanandan explains.

With many of his collaborators stuck at home as well, Dayanandan notes that they had the perfect opportunity and setting to work on this project. Their findings suggest “there is ample scope for restoring the global environment from the ill-effects of anthropogenic activities through temporary shutdown measures.”

“I saw first-hand how clear the air in Delhi was with the lack of traffic,” Dayanandan reports. Being stranded in Central India for an extended period of time meant he also witnessed a significant decrease in the number of people moving in public.

“The cows and dogs that were normally roaming the streets had begun to move out into the adjacent forests and fields. There was a lack of food for them in the human-populated areas,” he says. “As an avid birder, I also noticed an increase in the number of birds outside my window while in lockdown.”

‘Our health and the planet’s health are intricately linked’

Raised in a family of fellow biologists, Dayanandan says he spent equal parts of his childhood in the lab and the field surrounded by graduate students and faculty who were excited about their work. That excitement later translated into his own passion for the discipline.

“I have been involved in conservation biology for many years and my research and studies have brought me around world.”

So far, Dayanandan has completed a BSc in Biology at Concordia; acted as a research assistant at the Center for Studies in Behavioral Neurobiology; travelled to the Galapagos Islands as part of the Concordia Galapagos Project, where he contributed data to a long-term, invasive plant monitoring project, and spent a term abroad in Australia at the University of New South Wales taking conservation and biodiversity-related courses. He also became the president of the Biology Student Association, launching the Biology Alumni Panel and Undergraduate-Graduate Mentorship Program during his tenure, and completed his honours thesis through fieldwork in Eastern Canada.

“I am interested in environmental variation over large landscapes, especially as it relates to human well-being, since our health and the planet’s health are intricately linked,” Dayanandan says.

“Studying these processes at a global level allows us to take a step back and see how connected we are as a species. Then hopefully we learn from others in the same situation as us in other parts of the world.”

Dayanandan says he is relieved to be back in Canada with his family now, able to walk about freely again after his mandatory quarantine. “With a mask, of course.” Currently, he says he is spending his time developing and finishing up manuscripts, furthering his science communication and outreach efforts and continuing to collaborate on new research projects under the supervision of Grant E. Brown, professor at Concordia's Department of Biology.

“I think, right now, everyone is feeling a little uncertain about what’s to come. Then again, uncertainty breeds opportunity,” Dayanandan says. "The best part about a career in scientific research is that there are always new projects to explore.”

Arun Dayanandan shares videos on his Instagram profile showcasing wildlife he’s encountered during his year abroad (as well as the scientists who study them). He also mentors students and prospective biologists through the platform, and he is always up for a “science-y” conversation through the app or his website.

Find out more about Concordia’s Department of Biology.


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