- Journal Article2018Seasonal variation in wildlife roadkills in plantations and tropical rainforest in the Anamalai Hills, Western Ghats, IndiaCurrent Science. 114(3): 619-626.
- Journal Article2018Understanding perceptions of people towards lion-tailed macaques in a fragmented landscape of the Anamalai Hills, Western Ghats, IndiaPrimate Conservation 32: 11 pp.Download
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The fragmentation of the rainforests of India’s Western Ghats mountains has left the endemic lion-tailed macaque sur- viving in numerous forest patches in a mosaic of commercial tea and coffee plantations. On the Valparai Plateau, Anamalai Hills, some macaque groups have evidently altered their behavior, becoming habituated to people, suffering from frequent roadkill, and facing problems related to people feeding them and their use of open waste dumps. We carried out a questionnaire survey around three rainforest fragments (Puthuthottam, Korangumudi, Old Valparai) and the town of Valparai to understand people’s percep- tions towards macaques, and to identify appropriate conflict-mitigation measures. Macaques near Korangumudi and Old Valparai rarely ventured near residences, and most people were unaware of their presence. Respondents in and around Puthuthottam were aware of the macaques, and most (68%) had negative perceptions of them because the macaques often visited houses in the area. Most respondents (87%) believed that macaques visited houses in search of food and garbage, and 84% reported that macaques were doing this only over the last 10 years. Housing conditions influenced people's perceptions: people living in tiled-roof houses that were vulnerable to incursions by the macaques had higher negative perceptions (84.5%) compared to people living in asbestos-roof and concrete structures. To reduce negative interactions with people and promote harmonious human-macaque co-existence, we suggest implementing a combination of measures that would involve plantation management, conservation orga- nizations, and the state forest and municipal authorities. The measures include cost-effective monkey-proofing of houses, regular garbage collection, preventing open waste disposal and the feeding of macaques, mitigating the effects of roads, and promoting people’s awareness, rainforest restoration, and the use of native shade trees in plantations.
- Journal Article2018Herpetofaunal survey in rainforest remnants of the Western Ghats, IndiaThe Herpetological Bulletin 146: 8-17.Download
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We undertook amphibian and reptile surveys in six rainforest remnants of the Anamalai Hills in the Western Ghats, India. Over a two-month period, 36 species of herpetofauna were recorded from these remnants, including one species of caecilian, 19 frog species, 8 lizard species and 8 species of snake. Six species were either critically endangered or endangered. We also recorded one species of frog (Nyctibatrachus acanthodermis) outside of its type locality for the first time since its original description. The study demonstrated the presence of several threatened species of herpetofauna in these small forest remnants, the protection and restoration of which are important for the conservation of biodiversity in the Western Ghats.
- Journal Article2018Physiological stress responses in wild Asian elephants Elephas maximus in a human-dominated landscape in the Western Ghats, southern IndiaGeneral and Comparative EndocrinologyDownload
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Increasing anthropogenic pressures on forests, especially in the tropical regions of the world, have restricted several large mammalian species such as the Asian elephant to fragmented habitats within human-dominated landscapes. In this study, we assessed the effects of an anthropogenic landscape and its associated conflict with humans on the physiological stress responses displayed by Asian elephants in the Anamalai Hills of the Western Ghats mountains in south India. We have quantified faecal glucocorticoid metabolite (FGM) concentrations in focal individual elephants within and across herds, inhabiting both anthropogenic and natural habitats, and evaluated their physiological responses to different socio-ecological situations between November 2013 and April 2014. Physiological stress responses varied significantly among the tested elephant age- and sex categories but not across different types of social organisation. Adults generally showed higher FGM concentrations, even in the absence of stressors, than did any other age category. Males also appeared to have higher stress responses than did females. Although there was no significant variation in mean stress levels between elephants on the plateau in the absence of human interactions and those in adjacent, relatively undisturbed forest habitats, FGM concentrations increased significantly for adult and subadult individuals as well as for calves following drives, during which elephants were driven off aggressively by people. Our study emphasises the general importance of understanding individual variation in physiology and behaviour within a population of a seriously threatened mammalian species, the Asian elephant, and specifically highlights the need for long-term monitoring of the stress physiology and behavioural responses of individual elephants across both human-dominated and natural landscapes. Such studies would not only provide comprehensive insights into the adaptive biology of elephants in changing ecological regimes but also aid in the development of effective management and conservation strategies for endangered populations of the species.
- Journal Article2018Whose habitat is it anyway? Role of natural and anthropogenic habitats in conservation of charismatic speciesTropical Conservation Science 11: 1-5.Download
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Developmental activities have been one of the major drivers of conversion of natural forest areas into mosaics of forest fragments, agriculture, and plantations, threatening the existence of wildlife species in such altered landscapes. Most conservation research and actions are protected area centric and seldom addresses the importance of landscape matrices around these protected areas in providing habitats to a wide range of species. In this article, we bring out the crucial role of natural and anthropogenic habitats for the existence of three charismatic species, namely, Asian elephants, leopard, and lion-tailed macaques. The larger public perception of where the animals should be and where the animals actually are is also discussed. We emphasize that, while habitat generalists often adapt behaviorally and ecologically to modified landscapes, habitat specialists, such as the lion-tailed macaques could find survival harder, with increasing anthropogenic pressures and loss of their habitats.
- Journal Article2018Breeding biology of Great Hornbill Buceros bicornis in tropical rainforest and human-modified plantation landscape in Western Ghats, IndiaOrnithological Science, 17:205-216Download
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Loss of mature tropical forests to agricultural expansion often creates landscapes with forest fragments embedded within a matrix of human-modified habitats and land uses. Such habitat fragmentation may be detrimental to species with specialized habitat and foraging requirements and their ability to persist in such landscapes may depend on their adaptability to habitat modification. Great Hornbills Buceros bicornis, among the largest birds in Asian tropical rainforests, depend on large trees for nesting and a diverse array of patchily distributed fruiting trees. In the human-modified landscape of the Anamalai Hills, India, we compared the breeding biology and nesting behaviour of Great Hornbills in contiguous rainforest (N=3 nests) and in modified habitat consisting of coffee plantations and rainforest fragments (N=5 nests). The nesting cycle of seven of the eight nests monitored varied between 114 and 130 days. Nest provisioning behaviour was similar in contiguous forest and modified habitat in terms of visitation and food delivery rates, but visitation tended to be higher and food delivery rate lower during the nestling phase than during incubation. As expected, tree density and native food plant diversity were lower in modified habitat than in continuous forest. The diversity of food provisioned was lower in modified habitat with a 57.5% dietary overlap with contiguous forest. Hornbills in the modified habitat of coffee plantations used non-native tree species for nesting and foraging, indicating their adaptability to modified landscapes.
- Journal Article2017Successional status, seed dispersal mode and overstorey species influence tree regeneration in tropical rain-forest fragments in Western Ghats, IndiaJournal of Tropical Ecology 33: 270-284. DOI: 10.1017/S0266467417000219
The effects of fragmentation and overstorey tree diversity on tree regeneration were assessed in tropical rain forests of the Western Ghats, India. Ninety plots were sampled for saplings (1–5 cm diameter at breast height (dbh); 5×5-m plots) and overstorey trees (>9.55 cm dbh; 20×20-m plots) within two fragments (32 ha and 18 ha) and two continuous forests. We tested the hypotheses that fragmentation and expected seed-dispersal declines (1) reduce sapling densities and species richness of all species and old-growth species, and increase recruitment of early-successional species, (2) reduce the prevalence of dispersed recruits and (3) increase influence of local overstorey on sapling densities and richness. Continuous forests and fragments had similar sapling densities and species richness overall, but density and richness of old-growth species declined by 62% and 48%, respectively, in fragments. Fragments had 39% lower densities and 24% lower richness of immigrant saplings (presumed dispersed into sites as conspecific adults were absent nearby), and immigrant densities of old-growth bird-dispersed species declined by 79%. Sapling species richness (overall and old-growth) increased with overstorey species richness in fragments, but was unrelated to overstorey richness in continuous forests. Our results show that while forest fragments retain significant sapling diversity, losses of immigrant recruits and increased overstorey influence strengthen barriers to natural regeneration of old-growth tropical rain forests.
- Journal Article2017Bats in the Ghats: Agricultural intensification reduces functional diversity and increases trait filtering in a biodiversity hotspot in IndiaBiological Conservation 210: 48-55.
The responses of bats to land-use change have been extensively studied in temperate zones and the neotropics, but little is known from the palaeotropics. Effective conservation in heavily-populated palaeotropical hotspots requires a better understanding of which bats can and cannot survive in human-modified landscapes. We used catching and acoustic transects to examine bat assemblages in the Western Ghats of India, and identify the species most sensitive to agricultural change. We quantified functional diversity and trait filtering of assemblages in forest fragments, tea and coffee plantations, and along rivers in tea plantations with and without forested corridors, compared to protected forests.
Functional diversity in forest fragments and shade-grown coffee was similar to that in protected forests, but was far lower in tea plantations. Trait filtering was also strongest in tea plantations. Forested river corridors in tea plantations mitigated much of the loss of functional diversity and the trait filtering seen on rivers in tea plantations without forested corridors. The bats most vulnerable to intensive agriculture were frugivorous, large, had short broad wings, or made constant frequency echolocation calls. The last three features are characteristic of forest animal-eating species that typically take large prey, often by gleaning.
Ongoing conservation work to restore forest fragments and retain native trees in coffee plantations should be highly beneficial for bats in this landscape. The maintenance of a mosaic landscape with sufficient patches of forest, shade-grown coffee and riparian corridors will help to maintain landscape wide functional diversity in an area dominated by tea plantations.
- Journal Article2017Evaluating a survey landscape for tiger abundance in the confluence of the Western and Eastern GhatsCurrent Science, Vol 113, No. 9, 1759-1763.Download
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Due to the current depleting trends in tiger populations, range countries have committed to double tiger numbers by the year 2022. However, some of the areas, including source sites, across the range countries lack scientifically estimated tiger numbers both at the larger landscape and at the protected area level. Here we report a population of tigers, from Biligirirangaswamy Temple Tiger Reserve, using camera trap based capture-mark recapture in a spatially explicit Likelihood and Bayesian analyses that yielded an estimate of ~55 tigers with a density of about 6.8 tigers/100 km2. Biligirirangaswamy Tiger Reserve nestled in a larger tiger landscape perhaps contributes dispersing individuals to the adjoining forests calling for integrated monitoring and management efforts for the entire landscape. This data set could help in designing long-term, landscape level plans, and outcomes.
- Journal Article2017The database of the PREDICTS (Projecting Responses of Ecological Diversity In Changing Terrestrial Systems) projectEcology and Evolution, Volume 7, Issue 1 Pages: 145–188
The PREDICTS project—Projecting Responses of Ecological Diversity In Changing Terrestrial Systems (www.predicts.org.uk)—has collated from published studies a large, reasonably representative database of comparable samples of biodiversity from multiple sites that differ in the nature or intensity of human impacts relating to land use. We have used this evidence base to develop global and regional statistical models of how local biodiversity responds to these measures. We describe and make freely available this 2016 release of the database, containing more than 3.2 million records sampled at over 26,000 locations and representing over 47,000 species. We outline how the database can help in answering a range of questions in ecology and conservation biology. To our knowledge, this is the largest and most geographically and taxonomically representative database of spatial comparisons of biodiversity that has been collated to date; it will be useful to researchers and international efforts wishing to model and understand the global status of biodiversity.
- Journal Article2017From intent to action: A case study for the expansion of tiger conservation from southern IndiaGlobal Ecology and Conservation, 9: 11–20Download
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To conserve a large, wide-ranging carnivore like the tiger, it is critical not only to maintain populations at key habitat sites, but also to enable the persistence of the species across much larger landscapes. To do this, it is important to establish well-linked habitat networks where sites for survival and reproduction of tigers are complemented by opportunities for dispersal and colonization. On the ground, expanding protection to areas with a potential for tiger recovery still remains the means of operationalizing the landscape approach. Yet, while the gazetting of protected areas is necessary to enable this, it is not sufficient. It is essential to benchmark and monitor the process by which establishment of protected areas must necessarily be followed by management changes that enable a recovery of tigers, their prey and their habitats. In this paper, we report a case study from the Cauvery and Malai Mahadeshwara Hills Wildlife Sanctuaries of southern India, where we document the infrastructural and institutional changes that ensued after an unprecedented expansion of protected areas in this landscape. Further, we establish ecological benchmarks of the abundance and distribution of tigers, the relative abundance of their prey, and the status of their habitats, against which the recovery of tigers in this area of vast conservation potential may be assessed over time.
- Journal Article2017Conflict to coexistence: Human – leopard interactions in a plantation landscape in Anamalai Hills, IndiaConservation and Society 15(4): 474-482.Download
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When leopards are found in human-dominated landscapes, conflicts may arise due to attacks on people or livestock loss or when people retaliate following real and perceived threats. In the plantation landscape of the Valparai plateau, we studied incidents of injury and loss of life of people and livestock over time (15 – 25 y) and carried out questionnaire surveys in 29 plantation colonies and eight tribal villages to study correlates of livestock depredation, people's perception of leopards, and preferred management options for human – leopard interactions. Leopards were implicated in an average of 1.3 (± 0.4 SE) incidents/year (1990 – 2014) involving humans and 3.6 (± 0.8 SE) incidents/year (1999 – 2014) involving livestock, with no statistically significant increasing trend over time. Most incidents of injury or loss of life involved young children or unattended livestock, and occurred between afternoon and night. At the colony level, livestock depredation was positively related to the number of livestock, but decreased with the distance from protected area and number of residents. Half the respondents reported seeing a leopard in a neutral situation, under conditions that resulted in no harm. All tribal and 52% of estate respondents had neutral perceptions of leopards and most (81.9%, n = 161 respondents) indicated changing their own behaviour as a preferred option to manage negative interactions with leopards, rather than capture or removal of leopards. Perception was unrelated to livestock depredation, but tended to be more negative when human attacks had occurred in a colony. A combination of measures including safety precautions for adults and children at night, better livestock herding and cattle-sheds, and building on people's neutral perception and tolerance can mitigate negative interactions and support continued human – leopard coexistence.
- Journal Article2016Providing more protected space for tigers Panthera tigris: a landscape conservation approach in the Western Ghats, southern IndiaOryx 50(2): 336–343Download
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Conservation of large carnivores is challenging as they face various threats, including habitat loss and fragmentation. One of the current challenges to tiger Panthera tigris conservation in India is the conversion of habitat to uses that are incompatible with conservation of the species. Bringing more tiger habitat within a protected area system and in the process creating a network of connected protected areas will deliver dual benefits of wildlife conservation and protection of watersheds. Focusing on the southern Indian state of Karnataka, which holds one of the largest contiguous tiger populations, we attempted to address this challenge using a conservation planning technique that considers ecological, social and political factors. This approach yielded several conservation successes, including an expansion of the protected area network by 2,385 sq km, connection of 23 protected areas, and the creation of three complexes of protected areas, increasing the protected area network in Karnataka from 3.8 to 5.2% of the state’s land area. This represents the largest expansion of protected areas in India since the1970s. Such productive partnerships between government officials and conservationists highlight the importance of complementary roles in conservation planning and implementation.
- Journal Article2016Range extension of the endangered Salim Ali’s Fruit Bat Latidens salimalii (Chiroptera: Pteropodidae) in the Anamalai Hills, Tamil Nadu, India.Journal of Threatened Taxa 8: 9486-9490. http://dx.doi.org/10.11609/jott.2722.214.171.12486-9490
Available here: http://threatenedtaxa.org/index.php/JoTT/article/view/2796/3827
- Journal Article2015Landscape scale habitat suitability modelling of bats in the Western Ghats of India:Bats like something in their teaBiological Conservation 191: 529-536.Download
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To conserve biodiversity it is imperative that we understand how different species respond to land use change, and determine the scales at which habitat changes affect species' persistence. We used habitat suitability models (HSMs) at spatial scales from 100–4000 m to address these concerns for bats in the Western Ghats of India, a biodiversity hotspot of global importance where the habitat requirements of bats are poorly understood. We used acoustic and capture data to build fine scale HSMs for ten species (Hesperoptenus tickelli, Miniopterus fuliginosus, Miniopterus pusillus, Myotis horsfieldii, Pipistrellus ceylonicus, Megaderma spasma, Hipposideros pomona, Rhinolophus beddomei, Rhinolophus indorouxii and Rhinolophus lepidus) in a tea-dominated landscape. Small (100–500 m) scale habitat variables (e.g. percentage tea plantation cover) and distances to habitat features (e.g. distance to water) were the strongest predictors of bat occurrence, likely due to their high mobility, which enables them to exploit even small or isolated foraging areas. Most species showed a positive response to coffee plantations grown under native shade and to forest fragments, but a negative response to more heavily modified tea plantations. Two species were never recorded in tea plantations. This is the first study of bats in tea planta- tions globally, and the first ecological Old World bat study to combine acoustic and capture data. Our results suggest that although bats respond negatively to tea plantations, tea-dominated landscapes that also contain forest fragments and shade coffee can nevertheless support many bat species.
- Journal Article2015Invasive alien species in relation to edges and forest structure in tropical rainforest fragments of the Western GhatsTropical Ecology 56: 233-244Download
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The impact of invasive alien species on native ecosystems is a major conservation issue in the tropics. This study in the rainforest fragments of Anamalai hills, in the Western Ghats biodiversity hotspot, assessed the effects of distance from edges and forest structure on the occurrence and abundance of three invasive alien species (Chromolaena odorata, Lantana camara, and Maesopsis eminii). Replicate line transects were laid from the edges into the interiors of four fragments varying in disturbance level and area (32 ha – 200 ha). Densities of alien species in the protected site were lower than in the three disturbed fragments. Maesopsis eminii occurred at highest density (382 trees/ha) in the highly disturbed site where it also showed prolific regeneration (1510 saplings/ha). The invasive alien species showed no clear edge-to-interior pattern, instead their abundance appeared to be localized and related in a site-specific manner to disturbances such as presence of Eucalyptus plantation, canopy openings, and trails.
- Journal Article2015Distribution, relative abundance, and conservation status of Asian elephants in Karnataka, southern IndiaBiological Conservation 187:34-40Download
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Karnataka state in southern India supports a globally significant—and the country’s largest—population of the Asian elephant Elephas maximus. A reliable map of Asian elephant distribution and measures of spatial variation in their abundance, both vital needs for conservation and management action, are unavailable not only in Karnataka, but across its global range. Here, we use various data gathered between 2000 and 2015 to map the distribution of elephants in Karnataka at the scale of the smallest forest management unit, the ‘beat’, while also presenting data on elephant dung density for a subset of ‘elephant beats.’ Elephants occurred in 972 out of 2855 forest beats of Karnataka. Sixty percent of these 972 beats—and 55% of the forest habitat—lay outside notified protected areas (PAs), and included lands designated for agricultural production and human dwelling. While median elephant dung density inside protected areas was nearly thrice as much as outside, elephants routinely occurred in or used habitats outside PAs where human density, land fraction under cultivation, and the interface between human-dominated areas and forests were greater. Based on our data, it is clear that India’s framework for elephant conservation— which legally protects the species wherever it occurs, but protects only some of its habitats—while being appropriate in furthering their conservation within PAs, seriously falters in situations where elephants reside in and/or seasonally use areas outside PAs. Attempts to further elephant conservation in production and dwelling areas have extracted high costs in human, elephant, material and monetary terms in Karnataka. In such settings, conservation planning exercises are necessary to determine where the needs of elephants—or humans—must take priority over the other, and to achieve that in a manner that is based not only on reliable scientific data but also on a process of public reasoning.
- Journal Article2015Does mixed-species flocking influence how birds respond to a gradient of land-use intensity?Proceedings of the Royal Society B 282: 20151118.Download
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Conservation biology is increasingly concerned with preserving interactions among species such as mutualisms in landscapes facing anthropogenic change. We investigated how one kind of mutualism, mixed-species bird flocks, influences the way in which birds respond to different habitat types of varying land-use intensity. We use data from a well-replicated, large-scale study in Sri Lanka and the Western Ghats of India, in which flocks were observed inside forest reserves, in ‘buffer zones' of degraded forest or timber plantations, and in areas of intensive agriculture. We find flocks affected the responses of birds in three ways: (i) species with high propensity to flock were more sensitive to land use; (ii) different flock types, dominated by different flock leaders, varied in their sensitivity to land use and because following species have distinct preferences for leaders, this can have a cascading effect on followers' habitat selection; and (iii) those forest-interior species that remain outside of forests were found more inside flocks than would be expected by chance, as they may use flocks more in suboptimal habitat. We conclude that designing policies to protect flocks and their leading species may be an effective way to conserve multiple bird species in mixed forest and agricultural landscapes.
PDF also available here: http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2015.1118
- Journal Article2015Prey abundance and leopard diet in a plantation and rainforest landscape, Anamalai Hills, Western GhatsCurrent Science 109: 323-330.Download
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Leopards use a wide range of habitats from natural forests to plantations in human-dominated landscapes. Within interface areas, understanding leopard ecology and diet can help in conservation management and conflict avoidance. In a fragmented rainforest and plantation landscape in southern India, we examined diet of large carnivores (with a focus on leopards) using scat analysis with DNA-based identification of predator species, and estimated relative abundance of prey species in different land uses through transect surveys. Large carnivores predominantly consumed wild prey species (98.1%) and domestic prey species contributed <2% to overall prey biomass. For leopards, four wild prey species (Indian muntjac, Indian spotted chevrotain, sambar and Indian porcupine) contributed 95.1% of prey biomass, with the rest being minor wild prey species (no livestock in identified scats). Wild prey species occurred across the landscape but varied in relative abundance by land-use type, with forest fragments supporting higher abundance of many species relative to tea and coffee plantations. As large carnivores mainly depend on wild prey and rainforest fragments act as refuges for these mammals within the tea and coffee plantations, it is important to continue to retain or restore these forest fragments.
- Journal Article2014The response of birds and mixed-species bird flocks to human-modified landscapes in Sri Lanka and southern IndiaForest Ecology and Management 329: 384–392Download
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While there is no substitute for undisturbed forest, secondary forests and agroforests are increasingly common in tropical areas and may be critical to conservation plans. We compared the diversity and abundance of birds and the characteristics of mixed-species bird flocks in forests inside protected reserves to ‘‘buffer’’ areas, consisting of degraded forests and non-native timber plantations at reserve boundaries, and to agricultural areas. We monitored a network of 57 transects placed over an altitudinal gradient (90–2180 masl) in Sri Lanka and southern India, collecting 398 complete flock observations and 35,686 observations of birds inside and outside of flocks over two years. Flocks were rarely found in agri- cultural areas. However, the density of flocks in buffer areas was similar to that in forests, although buffer flocks were smaller in average flock size and differed significantly in composition, as measured by the proportion of species that were classified, from the literature, as forest interior or open-landscape species. While flock composition was distinct between agricultural, buffer and forest areas, the differences in the composition of flocks was not as great as the differences between the overall communities in these different habitats. Considering buffer transects alone, pine plantations retained fewer forest interior species in flocks than did forests, and small areas of agriculture and abandoned agriculture attracted open-landscape species. Though clearly not equivalent to protected forests, degraded forests and agroforests in buffer areas still hold some conservation value, with forest species found particularly in mixed-species flocks in these human-modified habitats.