Navjot S. Sodhi was born on 18 March 1962 in Nabha, India. He attended Panjab University for his bachelor's and master's degrees in zoology, and received his doctorate in biology from the University of Saskatchewan, Canada, in 1991, where he was trained as a field ornithologist. Navjot spent the following 4 years as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Alberta, followed by the National Institute for Environmental Studies, Japan. In 1995, Navjot joined the Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore, as an Assistant Professor. He received his academic tenure (Associate Professor) in 2001, and became Professor of Conservation Ecology in 2007.
Navjot went to Harvard University as a Charles Bullard Fellow in 2002, and as Sarah and Daniel Hrdy Fellow in Conservation Biology in 2008–2009. He often commented that the first sabbatical was a turning point in his career, for he returned a more optimistic and motivated conservation ecologist, determined to make a difference to the teaching and practice of conservation in the tropics.
We got to know Navjot personally when we joined his group as undergraduates over a decade ago, and stayed on through our Master's research. Often spotted in his baseball cap (worn backwards), t-shirt, bermudas and sandals, Navjot was easily the coolest and most ‘laid-back’ professor we knew. His mentoring style was just as unique. ‘I don't care if you danced naked, as long as you get the job done’, was what he used to tell students. Everyone in the group looked forward to the daily gossiping sessions over coffee or tea. As our conversations switched effortlessly between gossip and science, we would jot ideas, equations and graphs on the whiteboard. Several of those doodles later translated into projects and publications, with important impacts on conservation science. Sometimes our conversations would gravitate towards the more philosophical. When asked what he would like to accomplish in his career, Navjot replied that science progresses in small steps, to which he hoped to contribute a little by publishing a lot.
In truth, together with his students and a growing network of collaborators, Navjot took giant strides in advancing conservation science. (Incidentally, one often sees multiple co-authors in Navjot's publications, which he believed, is how conservation science should be done – collaboratively.) Since 1995, he had been studying the effects of human activities on biodiversity in Southeast Asia. With his army of co-workers, Navjot collected valuable empirical data from numerous field sites, spanning the lowlands to highlands, and across diverse landscapes in the relatively unknown Southeast Asian tropics (e.g. Liow, Sodhi & Elmqvist, 2001; Sodhi et al., 2004; 2005; 2008; Lee et al., 2005; Peh et al., 2005; Qie et al., 2011). Through these projects, Navjot demonstrated that tropical primary forests are irreplaceable for biodiversity conservation. Navjot was also eagerly interested in the processes underlying pathways of extinction of tropical species. In one of his most important works, he presented very convincing evidence relating species extinctions to deforestation in Singapore (Brook et al., 2003).
However, Navjot's most significant and proudest contribution to conservation is the book he very recently co-edited with Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University (Sodhi & Ehrlich, 2010). Conservation Biology for All is a compilation of articles written by leading ecologists with the goal of communicating conservation science as widely as possible. With that aim in mind, Navjot convinced the publisher to have a copy be made freely available online. As a result, countless students, teachers, resource managers and budding conservationists throughout the world, particularly in the developing tropics, now have access to and would benefit in numerous ways from this hugely important book. This extremely successful book has since garnered at least 85 000 downloads. (Link to the book: http://www.mongabay.com/conservation-biology-for-all.html)
Navjot published over 120 scientific papers in international peer-reviewed journals, many of which are highly cited by colleagues. He had been an editor and/or board member of almost all the major international conservation journals, including Animal Conservation (2006–2010), Biological Conservation (2008–2011), Conservation Biology (2003–2010), Biotropica (2006–2008) and Environmental Conservation (2011). Navjot had written and edited six books, one of which highlighted the plight of Southeast Asian biodiversity crisis (Sodhi & Brook, 2006) and another focused on tropical conservation biology themes (Sodhi, Brook & Bradshaw, 2007), despite repeatedly saying that each was his last. In fact, with the help of colleagues and students, he was still working on two books and several manuscripts from his hospital bed. One of Navjot's upcoming books, Conservation Biology: Lessons from the Tropics, which he was co-editing with Peter Raven of Missouri Botanical Gardens, we predict, will be another major contribution to practical conservation in the tropics.
Because Navjot understood the importance of training students so they in turn could make a difference to conservation, he was a very dedicated mentor. Before his sudden death, Navjot had already supervised 17 graduate students and as many undergraduate research projects in his relatively short career. Many of his former students have gone on to successful careers in conservation, but had continued to collaborate with Navjot closely. And Navjot continued to advise and support their careers. He was particularly generous and forgiving towards his students, and never expected anything in return.
We are extremely fortunate and proud to have Navjot as our academic father. We are even prouder to have had him as a dear friend. The world lost a great and gifted scientist the day Navjot passed away. There is no doubt that Navjot's legacy will continue to inspire future generations of conservation scientists.