Recent conferences and talks

It’s been a really long time, almost 7 months, since I have posted any updates on lab website. So let me post some of the conference and talks that our lab members have been involved with.

In March 2016,  a bunch of us that mostly included younger generation of ecologists, launched a new conference called India – Behaviour, Ecology and Evolution, in short I-BEE at Ramnagar, Uttarakhand, near the Corbett National Park. Three of us from the lab, me and two my of PhD students, Sumithra Sankaran and Jaideep Joshi, presented our work there. One key feature of the conference was that all talks were contributed talks which were peer-reviewed before acceptance. The conference was attended by around 100 people and was very well received.

A few folks from NCBS and ICTS have started a seminar series called Dynamics Fridays, that happens once on four weeks and rotates between NCBS and ICTS. I gave one of these dynamic talks in May 2016 on a very preliminary work on building models based on dynamics of fish school from real experiments.

In May 2016, I gave an invited talk at a national conference on Advances in Mathematical & Computational Biology held at IIT-Ropar. The event was only for two and a half days and was small. It had a great mix of physicists and mathematicians working on biological problems. I really enjoyed this small event.

In June 2016, I gave an invited talk at an International conference organised by ICTS, Bengaluru on Games, Epidemics and Behaviour. The conference had an interesting mix of applied mathematicians and computer scientists. I was one of the few ‘biologists’ among speakers. It was interesting to see applied mathematician’s way of approaching contact process based models, which we extensively use in our lab.

In Aug/Sept, I gave an invited talk at a symposium on “Spatiotemporal patterns as early warnings of possible catastrophic shifts in stressed ecological systems at the conference EcoSummit held at Montpellier, France.The symposium had a bunch of folks whose papers I had read from my student days, but had never met! It was fantastic. In the same conference, my student Sumithra Sankaran gave a talk on how to detect criticality in patchy ecological systems whereas my other PhD student Sabiha Majumder presented a poster on estimating criticality from real spatial ecological data.

Following this conference, my collaborator at CNRS Montpellier had organised a one day workshop on “Early Warning Signs of ecosystem degradation: Theory and applications on ecological data”. I gave the introductory talk on the “Theory of tipping points and their indicators”.

That seems quite a bit for an year where I had put breaks on travelling! I am not attending any conferences for the rest of this year. I expect these numbers to be even smaller for 2017.


I-BEE conference 2016

A bunch of us ecologists of India are putting together a new conference to bring as ecologists together to present their research work and to engage in stimulating discussions. We have named the conference as India-Behaviour, Ecology and Evolution (I-BEE) conference.

The first edition of this conference will be held at Corbett region in Uttarakhand in March 10th-12th.

We are all very excited about this. Do join us to present your latest exciting research work in ecology. The abstract submission is open upto 20th Dec 2015.

For more details, visit the website:

Colloquium at National University of Singapore

I went to Singapore for two days (19th-20th Nov) on an invitation from Ryan Chisholm, a faculty at the Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore. I gave a talk at their weekly colloquium on early warning signals of abrupt ecological transitions, including some of our very recent empirical work on analysis of financial market and savanna ecosystem data.

I also met Ryan’s students and colleagues, and had stimulating discussions on various research topics.

Summer updates by Vishu Guttal: Teaching, travel, and talks

Its time for updates again!  Let me start with myself and will post separately on what students have been upto.

Teaching: In the Jan-April term, I taught the course EC 201, the introductory course on Theoretical and Mathematical Ecology. This was the fourth time that I was teaching this course, but one thing had been bothering me a lot: the course was becoming increasingly inaccessible to biology students (in particular, our own CES phd students). The reason was that once UG students of IISc who had much better math background began to take my course as an elective, the mathematical level of the course became too difficult for CES PhD students many of who come from Masters in Zoology/Botany/Wildlife biology programs where the emphasis on math is minimal to zero. I did not want to miss out either on the UG students so that they are exposed to cool ideas of mathematical ecology or the CES phd students who ought know basics of theoretical ecology. Based on various suggestions, I tried this new solution: which is to let UG students take my course only on alternate years.

So this year, I restricted the class to biology majors who have had little exposure to mathematics. The UG students of IISc were requested not to take the course this year (and they kindly obliged). I thought that this really helped the biology background students to learn at their pace — and they did really well. So I am going to keep this format for the future. Even years: the course is open for all. Odd years, the course is open only for non-math background students.

Travel:  In the second week of June, I went to visit my collaborator Dr Sonia Kefi at Montpellier, France to initiate collaboration on our Indo-French grant from IFCAM. We started off great on a project on spatial pattern formation that will be led by a member of Sonia’s group. Sonia and her team members will visit Bangalore in December and we hope to keep this on for several years!

Popular talk: I gave a couple of popular talks/workshops this summer. One was at Christ University, as a part of the initiative by National Network for Mathematical and Computational Biology (NNMCB) to reach out to local colleges and universities. I spoke about evolution and collective movement in animal groups.

Workshop: I then gave a set of lectures at NCBS at the Monsoon School on the Physics of Life. The audience here were basically a bunch of highly motivated kids from various parts of the country studying physics, math or engineering. The idea was to expose them to biology through the lens of mathematics. I started off showing a graph from Ives et al 2008 paper on how midge populations change over time, and how can we construct a mathematical theory of the same. At the end of four hours, students learnt all the way from building simple model of exponential growth to logistic models to constructing bifurcation diagrams for a consumer-resource model. They were all super delighted when they found that even small changes in external factors can lead to large changes in populations; mathematically, this is captured by saddle node bifurcations.

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.

Lab Updates: Summer conferences, 3rd year lab anniversary and new members.

It’s been a really long time since we have updated any news about the lab. So here goes:

Summer and conferences*: We did lot of conference travel in the summer. Jaideep Joshi, going-from-second-to-third-year PhD student of the lab, tops the list by attending three major international conferences: Evolution 2014 at Rayleigh, North Carolina followed by ISBE 2014 (International Society for Behavioural Ecology) meeting at New York, and then finally ABS 2014 (American Behavioral Society) annual meeting at Princeton. He presented his work on the Coevolution of cooperation with collective movement and got some really useful feedback that will help us in writing the manuscript.

Sabiha Majumder, an Integrated PhD student from Physics & working jointly with me and Sriram Ramaswamy, and Sumithra Sankaran, now a second year PhD student, both presented their work at the 99th Annual meeting of Ecological Society of America at Sacramento, USA. For both of them it was their first major international conference!

Finally, I myself went to visit Princeton for a few days to attend couple of days atAmerican Behaviour Society (ABS) meeting and then three days at Sacramento to give a short contributed talk at the Ecological Society of America (ESA) annual meeting. I was visiting US after three years, and it was great to meet friends andformer colleagues, including Simon Levin and Iain Couzin, at Princeton, and then a host of others at the ESA meeting.

3rd Lab Anniversary: On Sept 5th 2014, we celebrated 3rd lab anniversary, which incidentally is also celebrated as Teachers day in India. I can only hope that all the hard work that has gone in various projects will see their light (i.e., get published) before we celebrate the 4th anniversary!

New members:

Several old members have now left the lab. Nitin (who did so many things other than his own project for smooth functioning of the the lab), Aishwariya, Pradeeksha and Ravi Ranjan have all moved on. All the best for their future careers.

We welcome four IISc UG students who will work on their final year projects with us: Nikunj Goel (Physics major), Amitabh Srivastava (Physics major), Visweswaran (Bio major, working jointly with Prof. Dipshikha Chakravorty, MCBL) and Athmanathan (Math major, working jointly with Prof. Srikanth Iyer, Math dept). We are excited that this is opening up opportunities for collaborations outside our lab and department.

We also have visitor from France, Quentin Hoarau, a physics masters student at Ecole Normale Supérieure of Cachan. He is our first international student visitor and will be working with us until the end of Feb 2015.

Kartik Azhagesan, who has a BTech from Biotechnology and has deep interest in computational ecology, has joined the lab from Sept.

Ashwin Viswanathan, our project assistant, in Chile to attend Complex Systems Summer School

Our project assistant Ashwin Viswanathan, who is working on vegetation patterns of semi-arid ecosystems, is attending Complex Systems Summer School at Chile organized jointly by the Santa Fe Institute, Santa Fe, US and Universidad del Desarrollo, Chile. The school will run from Nov 11th to 21st and has a distinguished panel of researchers in the area of complex systems conducting the workshop.

He was one of the top 10% of an international pool of applicants selected to attend this workshop with full  financial support to cover his travel and local expenses. Congratulations, Ashwin!!!