Centre for Ecological Sciences

Department website: http://ces.iisc.ernet.in/

Zooming out from cells and single individuals, to species, ecosystems and the biosphere, we come to the realm of the Centre for Ecological Sciences. Ecology and behaviour, linked by overarching themes of evolution and conservation are the main areas of research.

Animals call for different reasons during the course of their life, and Rohini Balakrishnan’s group has been studying the causes and consequences of calling behaviour in animals. Animals react to different stimuli by behaving in a particular manner, and their hormones are the main factors that mediate this behavioural response. Maria Thaker’s lab studies stimuli that initiate a particular behaviour and how hormones make it happen.

The wasp Ropalidia marginata is a “eusocial” species — individuals live in groups, each with only one reproducing individual, the queen. Just by looking at a nest, you won’t be able to guess who the queen is because she looks exactly like the other wasps. For the last 30 years, Raghavendra Gadagkar has been  working with this species, asking a range of questions from how the queen is chosen to why some insects adopt this lifestyle, using biochemical, genetic and behavioural approaches.

For many male wasps, their life begins and ends within a fig fruit; each fig species has its own wasp which pollinates its flowers. Some plants have ants to defend themselves from grazing animals and insects; some termites maintain farms of fungi. Renee Borges and her group work on the sensory ecology of such interactions between plant and animal species or between animal species, which can be beneficial to both (mutualism) or harmful to one (parasitic).

Animals are very different in the way they go about their lives — how they attract and choose mates, how many babies they have, whether and how much they look after them. This forms the broad canvas for Kavita Isvaran’s work, where students are working on an Indian antelope called the blackbuck, a rock lizard and the mosquito.

Flocks of birds, swarms of insects, shoals of fish, natural woodlands — how do interactions between individuals lead to groups? Vishwesha Guttal and his students use mathematical and statistical models to understand groups in ecological systems.

The genetic code in each organism is a window to its evolutionary past. Algorithms can tease apart similarities and differences in the DNA to construct complex family trees called ‘phylogenies’, which Praveen Karanth and his students use to understand the evolution of different groups of plants and animals, and to understand the geographical origin of India's biodiversity.

Kartik Shanker’s group is interested in patterns, from large scale patterns such as why species are found in specific areas and not others, to the population biology of specific groups. Current projects include how birds flock together to hunt for insects, distribution patterns of birds and plants, phylogeny and geographic distribution patterns of snakes and frogs, and turtle biology.

Raman Sukumar’s lab works mainly on ecology of the Asian elephant particularly their behaviour, reproductive biology, and conflict with humans; the dynamics of tropical forests and their conservation; the effect of invasive plants; and fire ecology.

Sumanta Bagchi works on how natural and human modified ecosystems respond to changes in climate, and whether they will be able to cope with future scenarios of climate change. He also works on the dynamics of human wildlife conflict, and possible mitigation of conflict by using community-based conservation techniques.

Malaria is not just a human disease. Birds get bitten by mosquitoes, and infected by avian malaria. Straddling a variety of techniques from behaviour to genetics, Farah Ishtiaq plans to study the ecology of bird diseases.

T V Ramachandra works on renewable energy sources, biofuels, conservation of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and pollution. The group uses remote sensing data from satellites, field data and experiments.