Vaibhav's Protanilla, Protanilla flamma a small subterranean ant measuring just 2.5mm has been described from the forests of Netravali Wildlife Sanctuary in Goa, India. This ant is completely blind and uses chemical cues for navigating in their dark subterranean world. The species is named after Prof. Vaibhav Chindarkar from Goa. The word “vaibhav” means eminence – like the glow of a flame in the dark in Sanskrit and incidentally, this species is also yellowish-orange in colour and hence, the species is named "flamma".
Effective communication in animals comprise emission of a signal by a signaller and a response by a receiver, such that the interaction is beneficial to either only the signaller, or both the signaller and the receiver. Although animals often communicate using a single sensory modality, use of multimodal signals is very prevalent, possibly to increase the efficacy of communication. The evolution of signalling traits in new sensory modalities, in the presence of signals in pre-existing sensory channels is intriguing, as it requires co-evolution between signals and receiver psychology. Furthermore, environmental conditions and energetic constraints of signallers, may govern the type and intensity of signals, as well as, their efficacy in reaching the sensory systems of the receivers.
In the first chapter, I studied the general ecology of a single species of a diurnal gecko in the genus Cnemaspis to understand its habitat use, activity patterns, and composition of population. I found that individuals of Cnemaspis mysoriensis are active throughout the day and found in areas with broad trees and numerous crevices. I also found that males of this species have colour morphs, which differ in their relative abundance in areas of high and low density. The population of this species has highly skewed adult to juvenile numbers in areas of high density. Finally, I found that individuals show low site fidelity and males avoid cohabiting.
In the second chapter, I determined the presence of multimodal signalling and the relative importance of signal components in chemical and visual sensory modalities for intraspecific communication in a single species of Cnemaspis. I found that male and female receivers differed in responses to signal components. Chemical stimuli were necessary and sufficient for female receivers; however, male receivers required both the chemical and visual stimuli as a multimodal signal to elicit a response.
In the third chapter, I determined whether complexity and elaboration of various components of a multimodal signal across multiple species of Cnemaspis were associated with environmental parameters. I also investigated whether components in different modalities had trade-offs in their expression and intensity, possibly due to constraints. I found that some visual and chemical traits of signallers were well-associated with the environment to either increase the conspicuousness of signallers to conspecifics (visual traits) or decrease the loss of signal in the environment (chemical traits). I also found some evidence for trade-offs between components of signals between the two sensory modalities.
Finally in the fourth chapter, by comparing receiver responses of two closely related species of Cnemaspis, one with unimodal signals and another with multimodal signals, I investigated whether the evolution of receiver responses were associated with elaboration of traits in a new signal modality. I found that movement-based responses of male receivers of the species with multimodal signalling were highest towards multimodal signal, providing some support for the evolution of receiver response with trait elaboration.
Overall, I found that in multiple diurnal gecko species, the elaboration of traits in the visual sensory channel shows some trade-off with chemical trait expression, and seems to have evolved to enhance interactions among males.
Colobines are group of primates known to inhabit different habitats. These habitats pose diverse challenges which they have coped up physiologically and behaviourally. Primates in such environments are subjected to prolonged scarcity of food due to phenological variations and low temperature in winters. They are expected to allocate their time to various activities optimally in order to balance their energy requirements. One such primate inhabiting the harsh weather condition of Himalaya is Himalayan gray langur. Himalayan gray langur, Semnopithecus ajax, is little-known endangered primate, initially reported to be present in few parts of north-western Himalaya. To understand their survival strategies in these habitats one must know about the whereabouts of this species.
Therefore, I first accessed the spatial distribution and occurrence of Himalayan gray langur in Kashmir region. This was achieved by using well-structured questionnaire and on-ground surveys in the region. It was followed by identifying sites which face human-langur conflict. My results suggest a wider range of Himalayan gray langur in Kashmir which was previously thought to be restricted in a small range. Langurs were found distributed in the protected mountainous forest areas of Kashmir by showing a preference for broad-leaved deciduous and coniferous habitat types within 1600-3000 m. Conflict in the form of crop raiding was found in the villages around protected areas.
Based on the knowledge of the distribution of these primates in forests, I tried to address how this primate survives the seasonality and cold temperatures of Himalaya in the next chapters of my thesis. I have addressed this by investigating the behaviour patterns and the strategies they have adopted to balance the energy requirements. I used observational methods of instantaneous scans for different behaviour categories. My results suggest Himalayan langurs spend more time feeding during lean winter when high-quality food is less available and rest more during hotter months. Moreover, they have greater home range sizes in winter than in summer. These results suggest an energy maximizing strategy by these primates when resources are scarce by feeding more on less profitable food sources and expanding their home range size.
I further investigated the diet and feeding behaviour of langurs. They were found to shift their diet with seasonality. They feed on a variety of plant items ranging from bark, buds, young leaves, mature leaves, ripe fruits and seeds. I used resource selection functions to test for plant species preference. A seasonal preference for certain plant species and plant parts suggest that availability of plant parts influences their choices. From these results one can conclude that Himalayan gray langur has adapted to explore a variety of food sources other than leaves. This study helps us in understanding the ability of colobines to explore such versatile diets which has helped them colonize many habitats, one of them being the Himalaya.
Overall, this study provides a baseline information for conserving Himalayan gray langur through comprehensive understanding of its distribution, activity budget, home range, diet and feeding preference in Kashmir Himalaya. The current distribution serves as a base-map for various management policies towards the conservation of this high-altitude primate. Moreover, insights about the conflict will help managers in developing ideas to reduce and prevent conflict. Due to the presence of this species in the broad-leaved deciduous and coniferous forests of Kashmir, it becomes important to preserve and protect these habitats for its survival. The key findings of this study are expected to benefit directly towards the conservation of this species and in understanding the survival strategies of these high-altitude primates.
Microbial decomposers are the unseen majority that determine ecosystem processes, and perform biogeochemical functions which translate into essential services, and regulate global climate. In grazing ecosystems that represent over 40% of the terrestrial realm, soil microbes respond to aboveground interactions between plants and herbivores. In this thesis, I analyse different aspects of soil microbial functions in the high-altitude grazing ecosystem of the Trans-Himalaya, and quantify the implications for biogeochemical cycles and sustainability under climate change.
In the first chapter, I explore how large mammalian herbivores alter foraging strategies of soil microbial decomposers. Soil microbes forage by releasing extracellular enzymes (EE) into their environment to break down organic matter. Long-term herbivore-exclusion experiment revealed that herbivores improve quality of biomass-input to soil. This reduced microbial deployment of generic-depolymerizing EE relative to specialised-EE that release assimilable end-products. I validated the underlying role of quality of detrital input to soil by a reciprocal transplant experiment using laboratory incubations. I synthesised 860 soil-EE profiles from across the world to establish that this response to quality of detrital-input to is soil is both widespread and general. These observations provide evidence of a continuum between herbivores and decomposers that is relevant to global nutrient cycles and can also explain how microbes control soil-C sequestration in grazing ecosystems. In other words, soil microbial decomposers forage more efficiently in the presence of large mammalian herbivores.
In the second chapter, I explored how microbes alter the stability of the soil-carbon pool when humans replace wild-herbivores with livestock in grazing ecosystems. I found microbial-respiration was lower in soils under grazing by wild-herbivores than under livestock, with corresponding differences in fungal:bacterial ratio, microbial-biomass, and metabolic-quotient. Direction and magnitude of these inter-related microbial responses were driven by reduced soil microbial carbon use efficiency (CUE) under livestock. Since CUE is a fundamental microbial trait, wild-herbivores sequestered twice the soil-C than livestock despite comparable ecological settings. This implies that investments in wildlife conservation in multiple-use landscapes can help decarbonise the atmosphere to mitigate some of the negative environmental impacts of livestock-production.
In the third chapter, I addressed the relationship between functional diversity of decomposer functions in soil and the stability of ecosystem processes under land-use change. Unlike producers and consumers, decomposer functions are common between natural and agroecosystems. I take advantage of alternative land-use in the Trans-Himalaya where the native reference state with wild plants and wild herbivores is repurposed into two distinct agroecosystems—to grow livestock, or crops. I find that the extent of human-alteration of the reference state is reflected in the degree of homogenization of decomposer functions. Relative to the native state, magnitude of individual functions was often higher under crops but remained unchanged under livestock, such that land-use had no net effect on multifunctionality. However, univariate and multivariate measures of functional heterogeneity were lower under crops but were unaffected under livestock. Stability of decomposer biomass, measured as invariance through time, was comparable across land-use types. These results show that previous knowledge on diversity-relationships in producers and consumers are not easily extended to decomposers, and there are fundamental differences. Although agroecosystems in the Trans-Himalaya show remarkably high degree of ecological resistance, homogenization of their decomposer functions can make them susceptible to environmental fluctuations, such as those foreseen by future climate projections.
In summary, this thesis explains how soil microbes contribute to the functioning of grazing ecosystems.
Riverine ecosystems encompass ecological, social and economic processes (ecosystem functions) that interconnect biotic components and provide goods and services for the society. Degradation of these vital ecosystems has been the primary cause for increasing water insecurity, raising the need for integrated solutions to freshwater management.
Post-doctoral position now available in the lab of Maria Thaker. Deadline for Applications extended to 30 May 2020. We invite applications for the position of Postdoctoral Fellow for Movement Ecology research under the Long-Term Ecological Observatories (LTEO) Programme on biodiversity and climate change. Contracts will initially be for one-year, with the potential to extend up to 3-5 years, depending on performance.
Number of vacancies: One
Position: Postdoctoral Fellow
India harbors high amphibian diversity. More than 80% of amphibians are endemic and have a narrow range of distribution. For most Indian amphibians, information on their genetic diversity is lacking. In this study, we have reviewed the overall trend in amphibian studies in India with specific focus on conservation genetics. Overall, out of 173 studies, there were only 14 studies that dealt with conservation of amphibians through genetic tools, while only five studies estimated genetic diversity and gene structure.
Commercially available antivenoms in India can be ineffective in treating bites from certain medically important yet neglected snakes, a study conducted by the Evolutionary Venomics Lab (www.venomicslab.com), has shown. These so called the ‘neglected many’, are snakes whose bites are harmful to humans, yet remain poorly studied.