Peroth Balakrishnan Tropical Ecology and Conservation Biology Lab

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Tropical Ecology and
Conservation Biology Lab
  Principal Investigator:  
  Peroth Balakrishnan, Ph D  
Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanic Garden & Research Institute (JNTBGRI)
Wildlife Research and Conservation Trust (WRCT)





Our lab has broad interests in conservation biology, evolutionary and behavioural ecology. The specific interests include: plant-animal interactions (seed dispersal, seed predation, pollination) species interactions (mutualisms, herbivory, predator-prey and parasite-host interactions), ecosystem services, life history theory, population dynamics and life-history evolution, comparative approaches to study evolution of the life history traits, evolutionary ecology of adaptive phenotypic traits, ecology and conservation of threatened and fragmented populations, wildlife–habitat relationships, biodiversity conservation in human-altered habitats, human dimensions of wildlife and conservation, evidence-based conservation and conservation education.






Current Projects:

Assessing the influence of environmental and biotic factors on life history variation and demography of tropical rainforests birds  





Information on the life-history traits are essential for estimating the population growth rates, evaluating various hypotheses regarding life-history evolution, predicting the response of species to future environmental change and developing conservation management of rare species. About 80% of all passerines breed in tropics. However, the life-history strategies of most tropical birds and the factors determining the evolution of the traits are poorly known. (see: Balakrishnan, 2009; Balakrishnan, 2010a; Balakrishnan, 2010b; Balakrishnan, 2010c; Balakrishnan, 2011) In these backgrounds, a study was started to identify and assess how the climatic and biotic factors affect the life-history and demography of tropical rainforest birds. The specific aims are to document the variation in major life-history traits such as breeding season, nest size, clutch size, egg mass, re-nesting rates, developmental rates (incubation period, nestling growth rate), age of first reproduction and parental care behaviours (incubation, brooding, feeding young) of passerines along altitudinal gradients; and to establish the relative importance of food, competition, predation, weather, habitat and individual quality as determinants of life- history variation.

Funding: Science and Engineering Research Board, Department of Science & Technology, Government of India.

Identification of indicator species for special conservation efforts in the High Range Mountain Landscapes of the Western Ghats    






High Range Mountain Landscape (HRML) of the Western Ghats constitutes a mosaic of multiple land use types including primary forest, agriculture, plantations and human settlements. This complexity pause difficulties in prioritization of areas and species for conservation, assessing the impact of management efforts and measuring the progress of restoration goals. Applying biodiversity indices or charismatic species in this context is expensive, time consuming, labour intensive and logistically impractical. Identification of indicator species is a widely used conservation tool to overcome these difficulties. An indicator species or group may reflect the status of a wider community or habitat, act as an early warning system to ecological changes and easy to compile, analyse and interpret. Both plant and animal species have been found to be acting as good biodiversity indicators. The present work aims to identify plant and animal indicator species or groups in different habitat and land use types as representatives of pristine habitat and detectors disturbance. It also envisages to develop a tool, based on indicator species, to assess the impact of conservation and management practices in HRML.

Funding: United Nations Development Programme

Collaborators: Dr. K.S. Anoop Das, Centre for Conservation Ecology, MES Mampad College.



Plant-animal community srudies in in various landscape elements in High Range Mountain Landscapes in the Western Ghats    



The High Range Mountain Landscape (HRML) with multiple land uses has resulted in evolving various landscape elements with specific species assemblages. Over a period of time the natural plant community has undergone drastic changes and there various intermediary stages of vegetation are seen in the area. The predominant forest types in this landscape include high elevation montane grasslands and shola, evergreen forests of high, medium and low elevation and dry forests. Among these, montane grasslands and sholas are extensively studied for community ecology. In the HRML, the low elevation forests in the Thattekad Bird sanctuary, Malayatttoor Forest Division (Pooyamkutty Valley), dry forests in the Anjanad Valley and Chinnar WLS did not get enough focus for plant community study. Although species present in most of these forests are listed, conservation perspective information regarding the plant communities are highly lacking. The fairly old development history of High Ranges and the chemically intensive cash crop cultivation plus the physiognomic changes in the stand at various altitudinal ranges could have deleterious or effect on faunal assemblages as well. The butterflies and birds, by virtue of being taxonomically and ecologically well-documented faunal groups are better suited for ecological studies and are important for their indicator value in the ecosystems. Availability and access to appropriate user friendly knowledge base and robust scientific baseline is a prerequisite towards improved decision support system for multiple use mountain landscape management. Such information will help in taking informed decision related to land and resource use. The community level information is one of the major pre-condition for landscape level management since the dynamics of the vegetation could be strategically addressed once such data base is available. The mosaic landscape of the HRML involving diverse natural, agricultural and human dominated systems provides a unique experimental setup for ecological investigations especially from the point of anthropogenic impacts on the system. This study on the flora and selected faunal groups will help in evaluating the landscape components across this landscape in terms of their faunal richness and biodiversity value and thus contribute to overall management of the landscape.

Funding: United Nations Development Programme

Collaborators: Dr. P.R. Arun, Dr. K. Karunakaran, Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology & Natural History, Coimbatore.

Use of research evidence in conservation planning by conservation managers in the Western Ghats biodiversity hotspot, south India    



The status of biodiversity is declining globally, and there is a subsequent need for conservation action to be informed by solid science. However, lack of systematic evaluation of the effectiveness of conservation decision making or practices has been highlighted as a key problem in inhibiting advances in scientific conservation management. Recent research have shown that in the absence of easily accessible evidence, conservation managers are obliged to rely on limited and often largely experience based information on traditional land/forest or wildlife management practices. The recent approach in support of decision-making in conservation management is the use of an ‘evidence-based framework' of the kind established in the health services. The aim of this research is to develop and promote an evidence-based approach to conservation planning and wildlife management in the Western Ghats biodiversity hotspot, south India.

Funding: PERii, INASP, UK.

Collaborators: Wildlife Research & Conservation Trust


Patterns of mortality in snakes of tropical countryside        

Direct human killing has been identified as an important cause of population decline in snakes. Majority of such malicious kills of snakes occur in the rural areas because the envenomings and deaths resulting from snake bites are a particularly important public health problem throughout the rural tropics. India top in the number of deaths due to snakebite in the world with nearly 11,000 estimated deaths annually. The Spectacled Cobra Naja naja, Common Indian Krait Bungarus caeruleus, Russell's Viper Daboia russelii and Saw-scaled Viper Echis carinatus are considered as the ‘big four' venomous snakes in this region which cause majority of the deaths from snake-bites. The fear and resentment arouse from the high mortality rates due to snake-bites result malicious killing of several non-venomous snakes on sight throughout the region. However, relatively little attention has been devoted to understand the patterns of the direct killing and impact of such mortality on natural population of snakes. There are very few long-term individual based population studies of them which ultimately hinder the formulation of effective conservation strategies.

In 2003, we initiated Snake Sense -a public education programme with the aim to understand the patterns of snake kills and to mitigate the malicious killing of non-venomous snakes especially Travancore Wolf Snake which is a mimic of the Common Indian Krait using a citizen scientist network in south India. Apart from improving the public attitude towards the conservation of snakes, we also aim to test the predictions of ‘vulnerability during dispersal' hypothesis and realize the patterns of snake mortality with respect to season, age and sex.

Funding: Kerala State Council for Science, Technology and Environment; Wildlife Research and Conservation Trust







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