Jaideep Joshi has been selected for Young Scientists Summer Program, IIASA, Austria

We are delighted that Jaideep Joshi, a third year PhD student in our lab, has been selected for Young Scientists Summer Program, at IIASA, Austria. This is a highly competitive and prestigious summer program for those working in theoretical ecology and evolution. He will be working on a research project in collaboration with Dr Ulf Dieckmann and Dr. Ack Brannstrom. All the best to Jaideep!

Vishu’s visit to Delhi and Germany

Some updates on recent travel:

Visit to Delhi in March: I visited Delhi University and Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) Delhi in the month of March for about a week (supported by visitor’s program of NNMCB). I gave talks on abrupt ecological transitions in both places. At Delhi University (dept of physics), I had lots of stimulating discussions with Sanjay Jain, his students and collaborators. Sanjay Jain has done some fascinating work on networks and its application to biological systems.

Likewise, at IIIT Delhi, I met Sachit Butail (although briefly since I spent only a day there and was sick for most part of my stay) who has done very interesting work on collective behaviour.

Visit to Germany to attend an international workshop and conference: I am currently in Germany (Max Planck Institute for Physics of Complex Systems, Dresden) attending a stimulating conference on “criticality in biology: a critical perspective“. What is criticality, how do we measure criticality in biology, what are it’s biological functions, etc are some of the topics on which there have been a number of talks and discussions in the context of neuroscience and ecology. Heading back after meeting a number of new folks and new ideas.

Last but not the least, I also met Iain Couzin, my former postdoc adviser, who has recently moved to Konstanz, Germany to set up a new Max Planck Department on Collective Behaviour. It was fantastic to catch up with him. We also discussed an ongoing manuscript that we are writing together with Jaideep Joshi (my student) and Simon Levin.

Ecology: Individuals to Collectives – article in Resonance

I would be writing a series for Resonance on some aspects of theoretical ecology, and from the perspective of a physicist turned ecologist!

The first of the series came out two months ago. I copy paste the abstract here, and here is the link to the pdf if you want to read it in full! Do leave a comment or suggest me how you liked the article and what would you like to cover in the series.

“Common people and even scientists think of ecology as a discipline that exclusively studies wildlife and topics related to environmental pollution. My friends both within and outside the scientific community are often baffled when they hear that I am a physicist doing research in ecology. The aim of this series of articles is to emphasize the less known fact that theory and mathematics have been central to ecology since the inception of this relatively young scientific field. In this first article, I will talk about the following three points. First, I will discuss how the emphasis of the basic science of ecology is much broader than its applied aspects involving the conservation of natural ecosystems. Second, I will discuss a fundamental parallel between statistical physics and ecology that arises because both disciplines emphasize macroscopic systems (e.g., magnetic materials in physics or flocks of birds in ecology) as collectives of interacting units that are more than the sum of their constituents. What makes them fascinating is that interactions at small scales typically give rise to unexpected properties at larger scales. Finally, I will discuss how ecology offers a new and rich set of challenges to mathematically trained scientists because of variations among biological organisms and the role of natural selection in shaping ecological systems, both of which have no parallels in the physical sciences.”

Silly thoughts on why fish shoal

Above is an interesting post (with comments) by Manvi (graduate student working with my colleague Kavita Isvaran at CES) on why so many fish species shoal in comparison to terrestrial species whether it has to do with being aquatic vs terrestrial species.

Ecology Students' Society

A quarter of the known fish species shoal throughout their life, quoted a scientist working on fish shoaling behavior. I wondered how these numbers compare with terrestrial animals. Among invertebrates only  few taxa live in groups, the celebrated ones being bees, ants, wasps and termites. Agreed that many higher vertebrates especially mammals live in groups such as elephants, hyenas, primates, meercats and wolves (I am sure you can think of at least 5 more). However it seems a small proportion of terrestrial animals group compared to fish. For argument  sake, let us agree that fish group more than terrestrial animals. Here is the main point I want to make: why do fish group more than terrestrial animals? Here is a brilliant and silly idea as to why:  I think it is because in water as opposed to on land, there is a third axis to group/aggregate. This extra dimension (basically…

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Two of us visit Europe for workshop and collaborative visits

Myself and Jaideep Joshi (first year PhD student in the lab) will be attending the workshop on Inclusive fitness and game theory  at Arolla, Switzerland this week. It has an impressive list of invited speakers and other participants.

Jaideep will present how collective dynamics can facilitate conditions for cooperation and altruism. This is his first international conference and he has been awarded a travel grant from DST, Govt of India to cover his travel costs. Congratulations, and all the best for your talk!

After the workshop I will visit Laurent Keller‘s lab at University of Lausanne for a day. I then head to Montpeller in France to meet Sonia Kefi  for about 4-5 days to complete an article we are writing together and also discuss further collaborative opportunities on studying critical transitions and early warning signals in ecological systems. Vasilis Dakos will join us from Spain.

Looks like its going to be exciting two weeks!

Article on our lab work in Fountain Ink

Here is a really nice longish article titled Tipping points and Phase transitions on our lab work (most of it from my PhD and postdoc) in a monthly magazine called Fountain Ink – published from Chennai.


To do this story, Mr. Varma (a freelance journalist based in Andhra Pradesh) visited our lab in the month of May for couple of days. We had long interesting conversations on the work. I really enjoyed talking to him, and I hope you will like reading the article.

PNAS paper in NYT and Wired

My first publication at Princeton has appeared in PNAS. It puts together computational models of collective behaviour with the evolutionary game theory, and more specifically, in the context of migration. Here is the link to the paper.

The paper was highlighted in the PNAS on the cover, in the “In This Issue” section and also by a nice commentary by Simpson and Sword and another nice one in the Journal Club for Cond Matt Physics by Sriram Ramaswamy.

It also got into press, with an article in NYT-Green blog.

The article in Wired is really well written. The wired article was faithfully reproduced in DNA!

(NOTE: This post was actually written on May 19th 2013 but published date was changed to Sept 2010 to reflect when it should have actually been written!) .