A postdoctoral position at APU / IISc to work on forest resilience in Northeastern India.

A postdoctoral position at APU / IISc to work on forest resilience in Northeastern India.

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Image Credit: Screenshot from Google Maps!

We invite applications for a postdoctoral position (Research Associate) to investigate the resilience of forests using a combination of remotely-sensed and field data. This position is supported by a recently funded DBT grant, ‘Monitoring resilience of forests in protected areas using remotely sensed technologies’.

The work will involve a) designing and collecting functional trait data from vegetation plots in two protected areas in northeast India, b) analyses of the data and c) integration with remotely sensed data (if interested). 

The postdoc will be co-supervised by Dr. Vishwesha Guttal (Centre for Ecological Sciences, IISc) and Dr. Krishnapriya Tamma (Azim Premji University), and is expected to spend some time at both places.

Eligibility and Qualifications: We are looking for candidates with a PhD in forest ecology, vegetation dynamics or other related fields, with experience in collecting vegetation data from forest plots. Experience with GIS data handling is desirable, but not necessary.

The position is open for anyone with the above eligibility and qualifications. We strongly encourage researchers from northeast India to apply for the position.

Duration: The position is available immediately. The initial term will be one year with a possible extension for up to two more years with satisfactory performance.

Salary will be in accordance to the latest (2019) DBT pay scheme (47,000 + 24% HRA for RA-1).  

How to apply:

Please email a cover letter (describing your background and interest in the position), a CV, and contact information for 2 references to Vishwesha Guttal (guttal@iisc.ac.in) and Krishnapriya Tamma (priya.tamma@apu.edu.in) with the subject line ‘Postdoc application for forest resilience project’ by 31st March 2019.

Short-listed candidates will be contacted for an in-person or a Skype interview.

New paper by Gokul and Athmanathan (UG students): Fission-fusion dynamics in heterogeneous populations

Very happy that a very cool paper led by two former UG students of the lab – Gokul Nair and Athmanathan – is now published!

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Gokul Nair, Athmanathan Senthilnathan, Srikanth Iyer, and Vishwesha Guttal, 2019, Fission-fusion dynamics and group-size dependent composition in heterogeneous populations, Physical Review E99, 032412, arXiv:1711.06882 [nlin.AO], Data and codes,  Download PDF. 


This is the first analytical model of fission-fusion dynamics in heterogeneous systems. Previous studies had looked at only homogeneous populations. We make interesting predictions: smaller groups are likely to be homogeneous while larger groups will be heterogeneous.

I really enjoyed working with these students and also with Prof Srikanth Iyer, who is a professor of Mathematics at IISc. My collaboration with Srikanth started with this project when we jointly advised Athmanathan, a UG student majoring in Math at IISc, for his UG project (Sept 2014- May 2015). While Athma formulated the model and got preliminary results, Gokul Nair (a UG physics Major from IISc) carried this on during his free-time, resolved many tricky mathematical issues, did more simulations and finally wrote the paper.

Although the paper is quite mathematical (perhaps most mathematical of all my papers so far), many sections are written in a way that is accessible to nonspecialists (you can easily skip mathsy parts without losing the essence – that was the attempt of our writing). I hope you will read and enjoy it!

Krishnapriya Tamma to join Azim Premji University as an Assistant Professor (updated)

I am absolutely delighted that Dr Krishnapriya Tamma – a postdoc from our lab – will soon (on 11th March 2019, Monday) be joining Azim Premji University as an Assistant Profesor! Hearty congratulations from the entire lab. Here is a picture from the lab party (Priya is on the right side, at the last minus one position)!


Priya completed her PhD from NCBS, working with Prof Uma Ramakrishnan. Priya joined our lab in April 2016 as a postdoctoral research associate. She was initially funded by a lab project grant and she then won the SERB National-Postdoctoral Fellowship award (from April 2017 onwards). Over these nearly three years, Priya has made immense contributions to the lab.

Priya helped us start a new direction of research in our lab on using remotely sensed vegetation data to infer the resilience of ecosystems. Her work with Sabiha (where both were equal contributors) is in nearly final stages of review and we hope to get that out soon! Priya also mentored Prashastha Mishra, an undergraduate student from IISER Pune and this led to another (in prep) manuscript on understanding the role of human influence in our characterisation of ecosystem states from remotely-sensed data. This is an area that we will continue collaborating for over the next few years. (In fact, we have just received a DBT grant – a post to come on that soon.)

Priya’s presence in the lab added a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the entire lab. We are badly going to miss that now. As soon as she joined, she resurrected our defunct lab meetings and made them full of excitement and fun. Apart from the research described above, she was also pursuing many collaborations with independently. Visit her Google Scholar profile to read her papers.

Priya is also interested in science communication, underprivileged groups and hopes to increase her engagement with these in the coming years, especially with a focus on Northeastern India. Update: To mention a few of her very important initiatives –  Priya was in the core organising committee of SCCS-Bengaluru for a few years and organized a pre-school for the underprivileged students.she also led discussions in CES In-house symposium on extremely important topics like mentor-mentee relationships, authorship issues, and how power-imbalance between mentor and mentee leads to suboptimal outcomes to many mentees, how to navigate such experiences, etc.

Azim Premji University has been hiring top-notch scientists and teachers over the last few years and is one of the best universities in India for undergraduate education. Once again, Congratulations to Dr Krishnapriya for her new job where I am absolutely sure that she will do a splendid job!

New book-chapter by Jitesh Jhawar et al: A first principle derivation of models of collective behaviour that account for finite group size

I am really pleased that a new publication – a first book chapter from lab and first paper of 2019 – is now out! Its led by Jitesh Jhawar, a final year PhD student in our lab and in collaboration with Richard Morris – a former postdoc at NCBS.

Jitesh Jhawar, Richard Morris, and Vishwesha Guttal, 2019, Deriving mesoscopic models of collective behaviour for finite populations, In Handbook of Statistics Vol 40: Integrated Population Biology and Modeling  (edited by Arni Srini Rao and C R Rao), Part B, 551-594. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/bs.host.2018.10.002;  Pre-print from Arxiv;  Codes and data on github.  Download PDF

Collective behaviours of animal groups are often modelled via agent-based simulations. They are relatively difficult to tract analytically. The main highlight here is that we present two analytical methods that are used in the literature (statistical physics and physical chemistry); we compare which method offers ease of model construction.

A second point worth highlighting is that most analytical methods often assume that group/population sizes are infinitely large. The methods we present accounts for the fact that real animal groups are finite in size and individuals interact with each other in inherently probabilistic ways! The resulting scale of description is also referred to as mesoscopic — a term that appears in the title of the book chapter.

The mesoscopic descriptions yield very counter-intuitive results,; for example, noise can actually facilitate collective order!!! Read the chapter for more details.

The writing style we have adopted is pedagogical so that even undergraduate students from physics and mathematics can understand the methods presented here.

Finally, I also want to highlight that the first author of the paper – Jitesh Jhawar – did his bachelor and masters degrees in Biotechnology – but in this chapter, he uses mathematical techniques like Fokker-Planck equations, Langevin equations, Ito Calculus, etc! So even biology background students can learn hard-core mathematical/theoretical biology if you really love doing theory! 



Understanding Behaviour – 2019 at Kolkata and Jitesh Jhawar wins best talk/poster prize

A number of folks from our lab — Abhratanu Saha (UG student), Akanksha (PhD student), Jitesh Jhawar (PhD student), Priya Iyer (postdoc), Preethi Rajasekaran (Project assistant), Nitin Saxena (PhD student) — attended the Understanding Behaviour – 2019 conference, organised by IISER-Kolkata.

Congratulations to Jitesh Jhawar – who won the best speed-talk cum poster award for his presentation on inferring local rules of interactions among fish from collective behaviour studies.



Jaideep Joshi awarded a prestigious Marie Curie fellowship

I am delighted that Jaideep Joshi, the (one of the) first PhD student of the lab, has been awarded a prestigious Marie Curie fellowship.

Jaideep will be pursuing his postdoctoral research in Austira/UK, mentored by Prof Ulf Dieckmann (IIASA, Vienna, Austria) and Prof Iain Colin Prentice (Imperial College London). His research topic is “Assessing the global vulnerability of forests to drought using Plant Functional Trait Evolution (Plant-FATE)”.

Soon after submitting his thesis (on the topic of spatial evolutionary dynamics), Jaideep joined Divecha Centre for Climate Change at IISc for a postdoctoral position. He will continue there for a few months before joining the Marie Curie fellows program.

Best wishes from the lab for his future endeavours!!!


Conferences 2018

Our lab members have attended a fairly large number of conferences in the year 2018. Here is a short summary of them.

Starting with me, I restricted my travel to a bare minimum due to family and child-care responsibilities. I did go to one a three-day meeting on Marine biology in Jan 2018 in France, followed by a DBT organised event on Nobel prize series in Rashtrapati Bhavan in early Feb 2018. After that, I have declined all conference invitations – both Indian and international. I will probably continue to limit my travel for at least another year.

Priya Iyer, an DST postdoctoral fellow, presented her work on parential care at a CNRS Jacques Monod conference “Sex uncovered: the evolutionary biology of reproductive systems” at Roscoff, France in April 2018.

Jitesh Jhawar (PhD student) attended and presented his work on fish schooling behaviour at a Conference on Collective Behaviour at ICTP, Trieste, Italy in May 2018. Interestingly, at this meeting, he met Dr Danny Raj, an Inspire Faculty Fellow at Chemical engineering department of our own institute! The conversations between them at Trieste has now led to a collaboration and Danny is a coauthor on a manuscript that we plan to submit very soon!

Krishnapriya Tamma (SERB supported National Postdoctoral Fellow), Sumithra Sankaran (PhD student) and Sabiha Majumder (a former PhD student and currently a postdoc Zurich) organised an Oral session titled “Multistability and Spatio-Temporal Dynamics of Abrupt Transitions in Terrestrial Ecosystems: Theory, Application and Management” at the Ecological Society of America 2018. It featured many talks by a diversity of speakers!  In the same meeting, all three of them also gave talks based on their own research work on ecosystem resilience carried out in our lab.

Krishnapriya Tamma also attended the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) conference in Malaysia.

Sumithra Sankaran (PhD student), on the same trip to ESA 2018, attended Gordon conferences on “Unifying Ecology Across Scales Based on Individuals, Currencies or Theory”

Akanksha Rathore, a PhD student using machine learning techniques for collective behaviour, attended a Winter School on Quantitative Systems Biology: Learning and Artificial Intelligence at ICTP, Italy.

That’s it! Happy 2019!!

Lab trip to Makalidurga

We made a short one day trip to Makalidurga (pronounced maakaLi-durga, where durga means fort in Kannada). We left early morning 6 am’ish and returned by 4 pm. Was great fun!

Above are some pictures! In pictures taken from above the hills – notice the contrast between blue skies and unmistakable brownish atmospheric layer – the latter most likely being the smog in/around Bengaluru city.

Sumithra Sankaran defends her PhD thesis!!!

I am super delighted to share this — somewhat belated — news that Sumithra Sankaran has defended her PhD thesis on 7th December 2018. Sumithra’s thesis was on understanding how local interactions, spatial patterns and ecosystem stability are related. Needless to say, Sumithra gave a fabulous presentation and the examiners (including external examiner Prof Partha Sarathi Dutta from IIT Ropar, Department of Mathematics) were super impressed.

It is worth noting – especially for prospective students to our lab – that Sumithra was formally trained in zoology and wildlife biology. Because of her exceptional interest in theory, she did a thesis in theoretical ecology involving fairly involved mathematical calculations, e.g., mean-field models, stochastic differential equations and their analyses via Fokker-Planck equations, cellular automata models. Finally, testing her predictions of theory with empirical data – which required another suite of skills in analysing remotely-sensed data, statistics, and making sense of results in light of theory!

Do check some of her papers here, here, here and here. There are two more being prepared.

Congratulations to Sumithra – its been so much fun collaboratingworking with you – which I hope we will continue!

Sumithra Sankaran showing a slide with spatially explicit model of patch dynamics.

Research project position for a duration of 5-6 months in the departments of Chemical engineering and CES [Update: Position filled]

UPDATE: The position has been filled.

Applications are invited for a research project position for a duration of 5-6 months in the departments of Chemical engineering and Centre for ecology, IISc Bangalore, India (Deadline for application: 06 Nov 2018). 

Broad research area: Understanding the agent-level interactions that give rise to the observed collective behaviour.

Project details: Project will be computational in nature; Project will involve developing optimization based methods to identify underlying interactions between a group of agents (like a school of fish or traffic) from the data of their motion and collective dynamics

About the project supervisor:

Dr Danny Raj M, INSPIRE faculty, Dept. of Chemical Engineering, IISc [dannym@iisc.ac.in– contact]

Website (for more details): http://dannyrajm.wixsite.com/danny-raj-m

The work will be done in collaboration with Dr Vishwesha Guttal, Associate Professor, Centre for ecological sciences, IISc Bangalore.https://teelabiisc.wordpress.com

Eligibility: Bachelor’s or Master’s degree from Engineering, Physics, Mathematics, Biological sciences; Final year projects for students in a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree

Skills desirable: Comfortable with building algorithms and coding (preferably in MATLAB; other packages like Python, Mathematica are also welcome); Penchant for analysing and understanding non-linear dynamics of systems

Details of salary: Candidates joining as project assistant or associate would get a salary commensurate of their experience and qualification; Candidates applying here for their final year projects are not eligible for a salary

Deadline for application: 06 Nov 2018

Contact: Interested candidates should email their resume to dannym@iisc.ac.in with the subject RESEARCH PROJECT POSITION- REG, stating why they are interested in the project (in brief) and how long they can commit to it. [The resume should detail any projects or interesting ventures undertaken that would be relevant for the post being offered].

Other details: An interview or test, will be held with the interested candidate following which the decision to offer the position will be made. The position is extendable based on the performance of the individual.