Mudumalai Field Station

Mudumalai is a unique forest community with a great assemblage of plants and animals. Attributed to a gradient in rainfall, the vegetation of Mudumalai ranges from moist deciduous forests to dry thorn forest. Vegetation is dominated by species such as Tectona grandis, Anogeissus latifolia, Lagerstroemia microcarpa and Terminalia crenulata. The understorey is composed of species such as Catenuregum spinosa, Phyllanthus emblica, Kydia calycina and shrubs include Helicteres isora, Pavetta indica and Antidesma diandrum. The dry thorn forest is dominated by species belonging to Acacia, Ziziphus and Erythroxylon monogynum. The shrub flora is composed of Gardenia turgida, Maytenus emarinatus and Canthium parviflorum. The ground flora is dominated by tall grass belonging to species such as Themeda, Cymbopogon, Heteropogon, Andropogon, Imperata and Seteria. Of late there is a large scale expansion of invasive species such as Lantana camara, Chromolaena odoratum and Parthenium sp.

The fauna include mega-herbivores such as elephant, gaur, sambar and spotted deer. Predators include the tiger, panther and wild dogs. There are several lesser mammal species. There are two primates, the bonnet macaque and the Hanuman langur.

We have long-term research on forest dynamics and demography of Asian elephant running from this station. We have a single large 50-hectare vegetation plot where life-histories of woody plants >1 cm dbh are monitored. This plot was gridded into blocks of 20 meters X 20 meters with Theodolite making corrections for slope. All woody individuals >1 cm dbh are identified to species, measured for size and mapped for spatial location. We started this program in 1988 and since then we have been following life-histories of over 40,000 individuals. We monitor recruitment and mortality on an annual basis. We measure the change in sizes of all surviving individuals once in four years. We also have a series of small one-hectare plots along the rainfall gradient which are being monitored once in four years.

Other long-term research program is monitoring phenology of dry forest trees, montane forest trees and carbon budget of dry forests. There were several short-term projects conducted as part of doctoral programs of students. They include ecology of invasive species, impacts of dry season fires, tree responses to variability in climate, dispersal ecology of dry forest trees, association of trees to different habitats as defined by topography and growth in several species of dry forests.

Long-term study of demography of the Asian elephants include monitoring of population for birth and death of animals in the herd, identifying groups and tuskers with distinguishing marks, aging the animals in the group following a standard method developed by Prof. Sukumar and sexing and classifying animals of a herd into different age groups. Other projects related to animals are monitoring of densities of large mammals, molecular ecology of Asian elephants, reproductive biology of elephants, acoustics in elephants, parasite ecology of animal community in Mudumalai and prey –predator relations especially of wild dogs.

Logistics: Long-term field ecological research programs require well-established logistics. CES has a well established and minimally furnished field research station at Masinagudi in the midst of the dry forests of Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary (now declared as a Tiger Reserve) in the Nilgiri district of Tamilnadu. Masinagudi is about 250 Km from Bangalore and is about a 6 hour drive passing through the historical town Srirangapatna, border town Gundlupet and dry forests of Bandipur National Park.

Masinagudi is a small town about 8 km east of Theppakadu (administrative center of Mudumalai) on an alternate narrow and sinuous road that leads to Ooty (Udaghamandalam). Masinagudi is a coffee stop for many passers-by who are on the way to Ooty. The climate is very pleasant with summer temperatures ranging between 30-35 °C. Winters are mild. There are two peaks of rainfall one during April – May and the other during October-November. Mean annual rainfall is about 700 mm (range---). Our field station is in TNEB (Tamilnadu Electricity Board) camp on the way to Moyar, a border village.

Facilities in the field station include jeeps, telephone, lab with basic facility, herbarium and Internet. We also have a mess managed by the inmates. We encourage healthy collaboration and provide a basic infrastructure facility for those researchers who come with interesting questions and research permits. Please contact Prof. R. Sukumar (rsuku@ces.iisc.ernet.in) or Dr. Suresh (suresh@ces.iisc.ernet.in) for more details.

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