Dr. Robert John Chandran

Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Sciences,
Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Kolkata. (www.iiserkol.ac.in)
(Autonomous Institution under the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India)

Adjunct Fellow, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment ®, Bangalore (www.atree.org)
(A Non-Govermental Research Organization)

Founding Trustee, Environment Support Group ®, Bangalore
(www.esgindia.org) (A Non-Governmental Organization)


Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Kolkata
Room: B-16, Prefab-II Building, Mohanpur-741 246, West Bengal, INDIA
Phone: +91 94490 40468, +91 33 6634 0000 Ext: 1209
Fax: +91 33 2587 3020
Email: robert.chandran@atree.org ; robert.john@iiserkol.ac.in


1979 - 1986 St. Joseph's School and College, Bangalore, India
1986 - 1989 B.Sc. Bangalore University, India.
1989 - 1991 M.Sc. Chemistry. Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi
1991 - 1993 M.Tech. Chemical Spectroscopy. Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi
1993 - 2000 Ph.D. Ecological Sciences. Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India


2000 - 2001 Research Associate, Indian Institute of Science,Bangalore. With support from the Center for Tropical Forest Science, USA

2002 - 2004 Post-doctoral Research Associate with Prof Stephen P. Hubbell at the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Georgia, Athens, USA, and at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Republica of Panama/USA

2004 - 2006 Post-doctoral Research Associate jointly with Prof James W. Dalling at the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA, and Prof Kyle E. Harms at the Department of Biological Sciences, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, USA.

2006 - 2010 Faculty Fellow, Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, Bangalore. (Registered and affiliated to Manipal University)

2010 - Present Assistant Professor (Tenured), Department of Biological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Kolkata. (Autonomous Institution under the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Govt. of India).


I have devoted most of my research to understanding how plant species diversity is organized and maintained at multiple spatial scales in a wide range of ecosystems across the globe. The structure, integrity, and functioning of terrestrial ecosystems is primarily determined by processes that operate in the constituent plant populations and communities. The link between species diversity and ecosystem structure on one hand and ecosystem processes and function on the other has been difficult to characterise, particularly for tropical ecosystems. There are now added imperatives that emerge from rapid environmental change, social and institutional changes, and intensification of economic activities. The propects for tropical biodiversity conservation, must therefore consider a wide range of factors from resource use, social and institutional dynamics, and emerging economic structure. However, frameworks to integrate all these imperatives are scarce, and are difficult and complex. I intent to work on such frameworks to develop management and consevation plans for landscapes in India that are of high ecological and cultural importance. I have already begun such work in two landscapes - the Terai region of Northeastern India, and the Eastern Himalaya in Sikkim. Since the resources in any given context are largely known and finite, it is necessary and possible to develop plans for conservation and sustainable use under likely and anticipated scenarios of development and change. My broad goal therefore is evaluate the prospects for biodiversity conservation at landscape scales in anticipation of expected environmental and socio-economic changes, so that we have the required data and scientific understanding for making informed decisions on land use.

RESEARCH PROGRAM: diversity, distributions, and life histories of plant species; environmental change and forests; wildlife and habitat management.

Research in a global network of large forest plots (http://www.ctfs.si.edu): Investigations on the deterministic and stochastic processes that govern species diversity in the richest tropical forests of the world in all the three centres of tropical diversity, Central and South America, Central and West Africa, and South and Southeast Asia. Our studies included >1000 tree species among >1 million individual trees that were identified, measured, and mapped in communities within permanent plots of 16-50 hectares in size. Our findings published in high impact journals and refereed book chapters reveal how diversity is organised at fine and intermediate scales and enables us to quantify the roles of resource availability, dispersal, and habitat heterogeneity in maintaining species richness at local scales (alpha diversity).

Research on sub-alpine and subtropical grassland communities: Investigations on grassland community assembly in two sites (i) the sub-alpine grasslands in the eastern Qinghai-Tibetan plateau, China, and (ii) sub-tropical riverine grasslands in the eastern Terai in Manas Tiger Reserve, Assam, India. In Tibet we investigate the recovery of grassland species diversity after release from cultivation and grazing using successional chronosequences. In Assam, we are investigating the turnover in species diversity across a 500 sq, km, landscape and the environmental factors (including, soils, topography, hydrology, fire, and grazing) that determine patterns of species diversity in space.

Research in tropical montane forests: Investigations in tropical montane forests in (i) the eastern Himalaya and (ii) the upper Nilgiris plateau of the Western Ghats. Research in the eastern Himalaya on tree species diversity, ecophysiology, and life histories species-rich broadleaf forests at elevations 900-1800 m above sea level, and Oak-dominated forests at elevations 1800-3000 m above sea level. Research in the upper Nilgiris on montane evergreen "shola" forests at elevations >1500m, located in an area of about 600 sq. km. Investigations focus on floristics, species disributions, and the determinants of alpha and beta diversity by resolving the contributions of deterministic and stochastic processes, and dispersal.

Research at landscape and regional scales using GIS/RS and field measurements: Investigating impacts of climate change and environmental change on ecosystems, using decadal time series of remotely sensed data and field measurements. Research focus at landscape and regional scales, including understanding responses of vegetation to changes in temperature and rainfall, and changes in land cover due to human activity and its impact on landscape scale species diversity of species-rich regions in India. Current focus on the montane systems, but expanding research to lowland vegetation at regional scales to investigate changes in phenology, biomass, and productivity. Datasets employed include LANDSAT TM, MODIS, LISS III & IV, AVHRR NDVI & NDVI3g. Topography data from ASTER DEM and climate data from WORLDCLIM, GLDAS NASA, GHCN ESRL.

Research on wildlife and habitat management: Recovery of wildlife populations of large herbivores and carnivores with emphasis on Panthera tigris after 15 years of insurgency (Bodoland) in Manas National Park, Assam. We are also studying the recovery/dynamics of vegetation after altered management. Extensive study using photographic capture-recapture undertaken in collaboration with the State Forest Department and local agencies. A joint effort with Bhutan was undertaken to estimate tiger populations across the Indo-Bhutan Manas tiger conservation landscape.


Tropical forest diversity: A deeper understanding of the role of multiple ecological processes that determine species diversity. These processes include negative density depenedent effects of seed predators and pathogens, resource competition for soil nutrients, habitat heterogeneity, dispersal limitation, and stochasticity. Quantifying the importance of these processes remains an important area of research in ecology. Results published in PNAS-USA, Proc. Roy. Soc. Ser B London, EcologyLetters, J. of Ecology, Oecologia, and book chapters in prestigious publishing houses Cambridge, Chicago, and Blackwell.

Recovery and restoration of grasslands: Grassland are among the most threatened systems due to heavy anthropogenic activity. Recovery and restoration are of immense importance and data are lacking on the processes that determine grassland diversity. Our research has shed light on the importance of habitat factors, competitive and facilitative interactions, dispersal, and stochasticity on the speed and pathways of recovery after release from agriculture. Results published in PloS One, and Ecography.

Recovery of wildlife populations: Our studies on the recovery of the tiger and other carnivores, the large herbivores populations, and the vegetation of Manas National Park have informed management options for Manas National Park and the Assam Forest Department in that region. Results submitted to the Assam Forest Department, UNESCO, and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service Rhino and Tiger Program. Results used in conservation planning for large mammals in this national park.

Impacts of climate change on vegetation: A global scale analyses of climate change impacts on montane vegetation showing that the 'greeness' of vegetation in species-rich tropical montane systems is decreasing due to climate warming-induced drought stress. Futher a fundamental nature of climate-vegetation relationship is undergoing reversals. Results published in the prestigious climate change journal Global Change Biology, and received widepsread coverage in the media.

Organisation of tree diversity in tropical mountains: The patterns of alpha (local richness) and beta (species turnover in space) are not well known for Indian montane forests. We are collecting robust data on these patterns and their determinants in both the eastern Himalaya and the Western Ghats. Some results are in an advanced stage of preparation and communication, and our findings should help highlight the value of these ecosystems in clearer terms.


Courses/Subjects currently taught at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Kolkata:

(1) Plant Biology, Plant Physiology, & Plant Ecology: Emphasis on the origin of plant life, long-term carbon dynamics, World vegetation, plant ecophysiology and function, plant life histories, evolution and ecology. Student profile: Science Undergraduate, Masters, and PhD students.

(2) Statistical Methods for Biological Sciences: Emphasis on exploratory data analyses, linear models (regression, ANOVA, correlation), hypothesis testing, cluster analyses, non-parametric methods, multivariate methods, introduction to likelihood and Bayesian statistical methods.
Student profile: Science Undergraduate, Masters and PhD students.

(3) Scientific Writing and Presentation: Emphasis on scientific "story-telling" and writing skills. Structure of scientific reporting, constructing sentences, paragraphs, and sections of scientific reports. Developing logically defensible scientific arguments. Public seminars and presentation skills.
Student profile: Science Undergraduate, Masters and PhD students.

(4) Research Methods: Exploratory data analyses. Emphasis on statistical inference using observational and experimental data, with introduction to frequentist, likelihood (information theoretic), and Bayesian approaches. Constructing reliable hypotheses testing procedures, and model selection. Linear statistical models. Multivariate methods. Student profile: PhD students.

Other teaching experience:

(5) Forest Ecology: Emphasis on development of vegetation in response to climate, classification, structure, and function. Ecological processes shaping vegetation at local, landscape, and regional scales. (Taught in years 2009 and 2010). Student profile: M.Sc. (Wildlife Science) at the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), TIFR, Bangalore

(6) Statistical ecology and R programming: Instructor, in NSF, USA funded Center for Tropical Science International Workshops in (i) Bangalore (India) in year 2001 (ii) Gamboa, Panama in year 2002, (iii) Harvard Forest, USA in year 2003.

(7) Introduction to Mathematics and Statistics: Basic mathematics and statistics for biology graduates. (Taught in years 2007 and 2008). Student profile: ATREE/Manipal University PhD students.

(8) Terrestrial Ecology (Populations, Communities, and Ecosystems): The roles population and community-level processes, and climatic and edaphic factors on ecosystem structure and function.
(Taught in year 2009). Student profile: ATREE/Manipal University PhD students.


Recognised as PhD Guide at Manipal University (through ATREE Bangalore www.atree.org)

Proficient in designing and implementing research programmes in plant community ecology, population biology of plants and large mammals, biodiversity, soils, landscape analyses.

Advanced knowledge of statistical analyses and inference, spatial statistics, geostatistics,regression, likelihood, research methodology; operating knowledge in Geographical Information Systems (GIS); and computer programming in R and FORTRAN 77 in the Unix/Linux environment.

Experience in conducting and teaching in international training workshops for researchers at multiple levels and delivering popular lectures on environmental science to citizen groups

Contributed as Academic Coordinator to building the structure and curriculum of the new PhD programme in Conservation Science at ATREE, Bangalore.

Member, Core Group on the Use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the Forestry Sector, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, (2009-2010).

Life Member. Indian Society for Ecological Economics (INSEE).

Visiting Scientist, Chinese Academy of Sciences. Hosted at the South China Botanical Garden, Guangzhou (April 2014 - October 2015)


1. Li, R., S. Zhu, H. Y. H. Chen, R. John, G. Zhou, D. Zhang, Q. Zhang, and Q. Ye. 2015. Are functional traits a good predictor of global change impacts on tree species abundance dynamics in a subtropical forest? Ecology Letters DOI: 10.1111/ele.12497

2. Zhang, H, Wei Qi, Robert John, Wenbin Wang, Feifan Song, Shurong Zhou (In Press 2015). Using functional trait diversity to evaluate the contribution of multiple ecological processes to community assembly during succession. Ecography DOI: 10.1111/ecog.01123

3. Krishnaswamy J., R. John*, and S. Joseph (2014). Consistent response of vegetation dynamics to recent climate change in tropical mountain regions.(*Corresponding Author) DOI: 10.1111/gcb.12362. Global Change Biology 20: 203-215.

4. John, R., J. W. Dalling, K. E. Harms, J. B. Yavitt, R. F. Stallard, M. Mirabello, S. P. Hubbell, R. Valencia, H. Navarrete, M. Vallejo, and R. B. Foster. (2007). doi:10.1007/s00442-013-2709-5s. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 104: 864-869.

5. Zhang H, John R, Peng Z, Yuan J, Chu C, et al. (2012) The Relationship between Species Richness and Evenness in Plant Communities along a Successional Gradient: A Study from Sub-Alpine Meadows of the Eastern Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, China. PLoS ONE 7(11): e49024. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0049024

6. Baldeck, C. A., K. E. Harms, J. B. Yavitt, R. John, B. L. Turner, R. Valencia, H. Navarrete, S. Bunyavejchewin, S. Kiratiprayoon, A. Yaacob, M. N. N. Supardi, S. J. Davies, S. P. Hubbell, G. B. Chuyong, D. Kenfack, D. W. Thomas, and J. W. Dalling. 2013. Habitat filtering across tree life stages in tropical forest communities. Proceedings of the Royal Society, London, Series B: Biological Sciences 280, 20130548. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2013.0548

7. Baldeck CA, Harms KE, Yavitt JB, John R, Turner BL, Valencia R, Navarrete H, Davies SJ, Chuyong GB, Kenfack D, Thomas DW, Madawala S, Gunatilleke N, Gunatilleke S, Bunyavejchewin S, Kiratiprayoon S, Yaacob A, Supardi MNN, Dalling JW. 2013 Soil resources and topography shape local tree community structure in tropical forests. Proceeding of the Royal Society, London, Series B: Biological Sciences 280, 20122532. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2012.2532

8. Baldeck, C. A., S. W. Kembel, K. E. Harms, J. B. Yavitt, R. John, B. L. Turner, G. B. Chuyong, D. Kenfack, D. W. Thomas, S. Madawala, N. Gunatilleke, S. Gunatilleke, S. Bunyavejchewin, S. Kiratiprayoon, A. Yaacob, M. N. N. Supardi, R. Valencia, H. Navarrete, S. J. Davies, S. P. Hubbell, and J. W. Dalling. (2013). A taxonomic comparison of local habitat niches of tropical trees. Oecologia 173:1491-1498. doi:10.1007/s00442-013-2709-5

9. Dalling, J. W., S. A. Schnitzer, C. Baldeck, K. E. Harms, R. John, S. A. Mangan, E. Lobo, J. B.Yavitt,and S. P. Hubbell. (2012). Resource-based habitat associations in a neotropical liana community. Journal of Ecology 100:1174-1182.

10. Anitha, K., S. Joseph, R. John, E. V. Ramaswamy, and S. Narendra Prasad. Tree species diversity and community composition in a human-dominated tropical forest of Western Ghats biodiversity hotspot, India. (2010). Ecological Complexity 7: 217-224.

11. Dalling, J. and John, R. (2008). Seed limitation and the coexistence of pioneer tree species. Tropical Forest Community Ecology (Eds: Walter P. Carson and Stefan A. Schnitzer), Pages 242-253, Wiley-Blackwell Publications, United Kingdom.

12. Wills, C., K. E. Harms, R. Condit, D. King, J. Thompson, F. L. He, H. C. Muller-Landau, P. Ashton, E. Losos, L. Comita, S. Hubbell, J. LaFrankie, S. Bunyavejchewin, H. S. Dattaraja, S. Davies, S. Esufali, R. Foster, N. Gunatilleke, S. Gunatilleke, P. Hall, A. Itoh, R. John, S. Kiratiprayoon, S. L. de Lao, M. Massa, C. Nath, M. N. S. Noor, A. R. Kassim, R. Sukumar, H. S. Suresh, I. F. Sun, S. Tan, T. Yamakura, and E. Zimmerman. (2006). Nonrandom processes maintain diversity in tropical forests. Science 311:527-531.

13. Condit, R., P. Ashton, H. Balslev, N. Brokaw, S. Bunyavejchewin, G. Chuyong, L. Co, H. S. Dattaraja, S. J. Davies, S. Esufali, C. E. N. Ewango, R. Foster, N. Gunatilleke, S. Gunatilleke, C. Hernandez, S. Hubbell, R. John, D. Kenfack, S. Kiratiprayoon, P. Hall, T. Hart, A. Itoh, J. LaFrankie, I. Liengola, D. Langunzad, S. Loo de Lao, E. Losos, E. Magard, J. Makana, N. Manokaran, H. Naverrette, S. M. Nur, T. Okhubo, R. Perez, C. Samper, L. H. Seng, R. Sukumar, J-C, Svenning, S. Tan, D. Thomas, J. Thompson, M. I. Vallejo, G. V. Munoz, R. Valencia, T. Yamakura, and J. Zimmerman. (2005). Tropical tree ?-diversity: Results from a worldwide network of large plots. 2005. Biologiske Skrifter 55:565-582.

14. Uriarte, M., S.P. Hubbell, R. John, R. Condit, and C. D. Canham. 2005. Neighborhood Effects on Sapling Growth and Survival in a Neotropical Forest and the Ecological Equivalence Hypothesis. Pages 89-106 in Biotic Interactions in the Tropics: Their Role in the Maintenance of Species Diversity, ed. D. F. R. P. Burslem, M. A. Pinard and S. E. Hartley. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

15. John, R., H. S. Dattaraja, H. S. Suresh, and R. Sukumar. (2002). Density dependence in common tree species in a tropical dry deciduous forest in Mudumalai, southern India. Journal of Vegetation Science 13: 45-56.

16. John, R., and R. Sukumar. (1999). Distance- and density-related effects in a tropical dry deciduous forest tree community at Mudumalai, southern India: in Tropical Forest Diversity and Dynamism: Findings from a Large-scale Plot Network. (Eds: Elizabeth C. Losos & Egbert G. Leigh, Jr.). Pages 363-383. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, USA.

17. Sukumar, R, H.S. Suresh, H.S. Dattaraja, R. John, and N.V. Joshi (1999). Mudumalai forest dynamics plot, India: in Tropical Forest Diversity and Dynamism: Findings from a Large-scale Plot Network. (Eds: Elizabeth C. Losos & Egbert G. Leigh, Jr.). Pages 551-563. Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago, USA.

18. John, R., H. S. Dattaraja, H. S. Suresh, and R. Sukumar. (2007). Fire in tropical dry forests: results from a long-term study in Mudumalai, southern India. Proceedings of a National Workshop on Forest Fires in India. Ministry of Environment and Forests, Pages 101-106, New Delhi, India.

19. John, R., Tyagi, R. and Gupta, M. N. (1994). An insoluble aggregate of commercially available bovine serum albumin shows antiproteolytic activity. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology International 33: 263 - 272.

Ph.D. and Masters Students Currently Under Supervision

1. Dhritiman Das. (Registered for PhD at Manipal University through ATREE). Title: Diversity and assembly of a sub-tropical grassland-forest community in the Eastern Terai of India. (Principal advisor).

2. Radhika Kanade. (Registered for PhD at Manipal University through ATREE). Title: Assembly of woody plant communities in species-rich forests of the Sikkim Himalaya: an evaluation based on plant functional traits. (Principal advisor).

3. Yangchenla Bhutia. (Registered for PhD at Manipal University through ATREE). Title: Understanding the distribution and abundance of sympatric species of the Fagaceae in the Teesta watershed of the Sikkim Himalaya. (Principal advisor).

4. Subhani Rath. Plant diversity in sacred forests in Odisha: A possible biodiversity conservation model. (PhD student at IISER-Kolkata, Principal advisor).

5. Lokdeep Teekas. Diurnal patterns of variation phytoplakton community structure in the Sundarbans ecosystem (MS student at IISER Kolkata)

Fellowships/Grants Obtained and/or Administered:

1. Lead Principal Investigator and coordinator on project titled "Programme Support for Technological Innovations and Ecological Research for the Sustainable Use of Bioresources in the Sikkim Himalaya".
Funded by the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India. Total outlay Rs. 4,49,89,000/- (~US$890,000/-) (May 2009 - May 2016)

2. Principal Investigator on project titled "Science and Education on the linkages between climate change and biodiversity". Funded by HSBC Bank and Coordinated by Earthwatch UK. Project outlay for the year 2009. £10,000/-

3. Principal Investigator: Research and Monitoring component of the UNESCO World Heritage Biodiversity Project sites in Assam, India (2008- 2011). Total project outlay US$ 120,000 over a 4-year period.

4. Principal Investigator during June 2007 - January 2009 on a joint institutional project between ATREE and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences on global climate change and biodiversity and agriculture. Total project outlay Rs. 1,54,92,915/- (~US$ 300,000/-) (over a 3-year period).

5. Principal Investigator of project "Recovery of the Tiger Pantheratigris and its prey in Manas National Park, Assam, India. Project outlay US$58,610 for April 2012 - December 2013. United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Rhino and Tiger Conservation Program, USA.

6. Visiting Scientist Fellowship, Chinese Academy of Sciences. (RMB 147,000). Hosted at the South China Botanical Garden, Guangzhou, P.R. China.