Mrinalini Erkenswick Watsa, Ph.D.

Researcher

Dr. Mrinalini Erkenswick Watsa serves San Diego Zoo Global as a Researcher and the 2020 Bud Heller Fellow in Population Sustainability. Her primary focus is the application of low-cost field genomics tools, such as nanopore sequencing, to enhancing population assessments of wild Sumatran tigers.  She is also developing low-cost and innovative conservation technology to monitoring individuals, including animal-mounted collars and microchip-based sensors. She has extensive wildlife-handling experience with wild primates, bats, birds, small mammals, and marsupials.

Mrinalini works on designing both species- and individual-specific genetic tests that are deployable within source habitats through the creation of portable and permanent field genomics laboratories.  Via nanopore sequencing technology, she hopes to create a sustainable and affordable monitoring system for wild Sumatran tiger populations. She hopes this can provide a quick, accurate, and sustainable means of year-round population assessments that rely less on manpower and more on the ability to locate trace DNA signatures of tigers in environmental samples.

Mrinalini earned her bachelor’s degree in Biology from Grinnell College in Iowa, and her doctorate in Biological Anthropology from Washington University in Saint Louis, where she worked on a multi-year monitoring program for wild saddleback and emperor tamarins. Following this, she completed a decade-long study of these primates in the Peruvian Amazon, contributing to research on breeding status, reproductive biology, disease ecology, vocal communication, and space-use. Mrinalini holds research scientist affiliations with Washington University and the University of Missouri-St. Louis. She serves on the board of Field Projects International, a conservation education organization she co-founded in 2013.

SCIENCE AT WORK