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Centre for Ecological Sciences

Finding our roots: Phylogenetics Lab at IISc

All complex living organisms present on Earth today have evolved, over a span of nearly 3.5 billion years, from a microscopic, single-celled organism. During this time, many species went through periodical changes; some like the dinosaurs became extinct. Many of the species living today have diverged from common ancestors. How are species in India related to each other and to species from elsewhere in the world? What is the origin of Indian species? Research carried out in the phylogenetics lab, housed in the Centre for Ecological Sciences (CES) at IISc, is seeking the answers to such questions.

Lichen diversity in the sacred groves of the Western Ghats

The Western Ghats is one of the world’s richest biodiversity hotspots. The region is host to several thousands of species, of which a large proportion are endemic. The complex geography, wide variations in annual rainfall from 1000-6000 mm, and altitudinal decrease in temperature, coupled with anthropogenic factors, have produced a variety of vegetation types in the Western Ghats. Tropical evergreen forest is the natural climax vegetation of western slopes, which intercept the south-west monsoon winds. We tend to look at the tall majestic trees, the charismatic large mammals and the colourful insects first. What we don’t notice right away is the fact that the region is also home to some very diverse lichen species. This is what Dr T V Ramachandra from the Centre for Ecological Sciences, IISc and others have studied.

Lab Story:A peek into the future of Indian forests

Based at the Centre for Sustainable Technologies (CST) at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Prof. Ravindranath's research group ( has pioneered environmental research in areas of national and global importance. Over the last two decades, they have been pursuing broad research themes related to the impacts of climate change on forests, bio-energy in rural areas and ecosystem services.

Lab Story:Easing a little physics into ecology

What is common between a stock market crash and an abrupt collapse of the aquatic life system in a lake? To a layperson, these may seem like two unrelated events. But to Dr. Vishwesha Guttal, both these situations are catastrophic shifts in complex systems that share several common characteristics.

Where do elephants live in Karnataka?

Karnataka is home to the largest population of the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) in India. Conservation of these large mammals depends on mapping their occurrence and numbers, both in protected areas as well as non-protected areas. A multi-institution team including scientists from the Nature Conservation Foundation and Indian Institute of Science have identified the regions over which they are found in the state, as well as assessed areas where they are less or more abundant. They find out that there is a significant occurrence of elephants outside the protected areas, which is an important factor in human-elephant conflict.

Communication while living together, insect style

The world around us is full of fascinating interactions between organisms of different species. Some of these are predatory in nature, some parasitic, but many of them are mutually beneficial to both organisms. This is called mutualism, in which organisms from different species are in a relationship in which each organism benefits from the activity of the other. But most of these relationships haven't yet been studied in depth. In particular, the sensory biology of the interactions between species is yet to be understood; that is, the study of the sensory signals that are exchanged between interacting species--signals of vision, colour, scent, or chemicals.

The Macrophysiology Lab: Diving into the mysteries of animal behaviour

The animal world has never failed to fascinate the curious human mind with the mysteries it has to offer. For ages, many have strived to understand how our fellow beings are surviving in a world that is perpetually challenging.
Headed by Assistant Professor Maria Thaker, The MacrophysiologyLab focuses on how animals deal with stress. For animals in the wild, stress is a factor that has to be dealt with constantly as it can arise in the form of a predator, a competitor, changes in habitat or unfavourable climatic conditions; how an animal copes with this stress will consequently determine its survival.

Ecology across space and time

Many have pondered over how the innumerable numbers of species, plants and animals alike, have come to be. Why are species around the world distributed in a particular manner? How does this contribute to large-scale diversity patterns? What kinds of relations exist within and between species? Why do two species, thought to be natural enemies, work together cooperatively? These are some of the questions that Dr. Shanker and his research team are examining.

Dr. Sukumar’s Lab: Forests, elephants and the environment

Prof. Sukumar dons many hats, and has been marking his contribution to the field of wildlife conservation and forest management over the years. He even contributed for over a decade to the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. If you look back in time at his achievements -- Chair of the Asian Elephant Specialist Group of IUCN (1997-2003), the Order of the Golden Ark (1997), the Whitley Gold Award for International Nature Conservation (2003) and International Cosmos Prize (2006) to name a few – they showcase his dedication and passion to promote sound research, his love for the forest and his attempts to bridge the gap between science and conservation policies.