Eastern Himalaya

Our research is focused on hornbill biology,  interactions between rats, seeds and rainforest trees, tree phenology, understanding patterns and processes in vegetation recovery following shifting cultivation. Past work has focused on monitoring threatened wildlife, understanding anthropogenic effects on wildlife, exploration surveys and management of reserves. Our work with communities has focused on addressing socio-economic needs to enable positive conservation outcomes. 

Hornbill biology and conservation

Tropical forest interactions

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Forests, weeds and farms

Understanding a shifting cultivation system in the Eastern Himalaya

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Rats, seeds and rainforest trees

Plant-animal interactions: seed predation and plant demography


Tree phenology and hornbill breeding

Long-term monitoring of trees, hornbill nests and roosts



Plant-disperser mutualistic networks

Understanding the role of hornbills in plant-disperser networks

Conservation education and outreach



Pakke Nature Information Centre

A new learning and activity centre for visitors to Pakke Tiger Reserve

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Hornbill Watch

Citizen-science initiative celebrating Indian Hornbills

Other Projects

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Endangered bird distributions

Understanding distributions of White-bellied Heron and White-winged Duck 



Linking rural energy and conservation

Linking rural energy and nature conservation in a tribal village 



  • Amiens Zoo Metropole, France
  • Atlanta Zoo, USA
  • Attica Zoo, Greece
  • Chester Zoo (North of England Zoological Society), UK
  • Department of Science & Technology (DST), New Delhi
  • Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund, USA
  • Greater Vancouver Zoo, Canada
  • International Foundation for Science (IFS), Sweden
  • Lagos Zoo, Portugal
  • Nashville Zoo, USA
  • National Geographic Society (Committee for Research & Exploration), USA
  • National Geographic Society (Conservation Trust), USA
  • National Geographic Society (Emerging Explorer Program), USA
  • Planckendael Zoo, Antwerp, Belgium
  • Rotterdam Zoo, Netherlands
  • Rufford Small Grants Foundation, UK
  • The Serenity Trust, Ahmedabad
  • Whitley Fund for Nature, UK
  • Wildlife Conservation Society - NY, USA
  • Wings World Quest (Women of Discovery), New York, USA


  • Book Chapter
    In press
    Top-down or bottom-up: the role of the government and local institutions in regulating shifting cultivation in the Upper Siang district, Eastern Himalaya, India (in press)
    Shifting Cultivation and Environmental Change: Indigenous People, Agriculture and Forest Conservation (Ed: Malcolm Cairns), Published by Routledge.
  • Poster
    How Hornbills Breed: Wreathed Hornbills

    PDF, 2.34 MB

    Great Hornbills poster up here: http://ncf-india.org/publications/1101

  • Poster
    How Hornbills Breed: Great Hornbills

    PDF, 4.96 KB

    Wreathed Hornbills poster up here: http://ncf-india.org/publications/1100

  • Journal Article
    Hornbill Watch: A citizen science initiative for Indian hornbills
    Aparajita Datta, Rohit Naniwadekar, Manisha Rao, Ramki Sreenivasan, Vikram Hiresavi
    Indian Birds, 14:65-70

    PDF, 18.4 MB

    Hornbills are conspicuous and well-known birds with nine species occurring in India. While several hornbill species have been studied extensively in some parts of India, there is a knowledge gap about their distribution, population size, and adaptations to rapidly changing habitats. Most research and conservation efforts are often focused on single or few species within protected areas. Hornbill Watch (henceforth, HW) is an online platform created specifically to record public sightings of hornbills from anywhere in India. The idea is to encourage birders, nature enthusiasts, and photographers to share information on hornbill presence, behaviour, and conservation-related issues. The main objective is to generate baseline information using sight records and enable long-term monitoring of these species by encouraging citizen participation. HW was launched in June 2014, and up to February 2017 had received 938 records from 430 contributors across India, from 26 States and three Union Territories. States from where most sightings were reported were Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Assam, and Arunachal Pradesh. Species were reported from both inside (41%), and outside Protected Areas (59%; henceforth, PA). Hornbills were reported from 70 PAs. Fifty-one records of nesting were reported for all species from inside and outside PAs, while 27 records of communal roosting were reported for some species. The data obtained thus far has yielded some useful information and insights,and has the potential for enhancing our understanding of current hornbill distribution patterns, and for identifying important sites for conservation/protection.

  • Report
    Understanding impacts of hornbill loss on plants.
    Final report submitted to Arunachal Pradesh Forest Department, Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh towards completion of the research project titled “Understanding Impacts of Hornbill Loss on Plants”.

    PDF, 21.2 MB

    While large avian frugivores are known to be key dispersers for large-seeded plants, their role in the wider plant-disperser networks is still poorly known. In this study, we evaluate the role of large avian frugivores in plant-disperser communities using network and seed dispersal effectiveness approaches in a tropical forest site in north-east India. We systematically-collected tree watch data from 46 plant species, representing 85 percent of typically bird-dispersed plant species, spanning over 2055 h. We found that the plant-disperser community was modular with a distinct community of large-sized seed plants and frugivores. While intermediate-sized birds such as barbets and bulbuls were the most connected, large-sized dispersers such as hornbills and Imperial-pigeons were moderately well-connected. Imperial-pigeons consistently fed on large-sized fruits, highlighting their importance for dispersal of large-seeded plants. In addition to frugivore-fruit size matching, frugivore dietary choices might play an important role in governing the organization of modules. There was a gradient in qualitative and quantitative roles played by different dispersers, with hornbills removing significantly larger number of fruits and consistently swallowing larger proportions of fruits as compared to other avian groups. Under simulated extinction scenarios, observed networks were far less resilient to disperser loss along a gradient of body size from large to small as compared to extinctions that were random or based on rarity. Given the paucity of information on plant-disperser networks from the South Asian region and reported local extinctions of large frugivores like hornbills, this study is important in highlighting that loss of large avian frugivores might have irreplaceable quantitative and qualitative damages to plant communities.

  • Journal Article
    Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris in Anini, Arunachal Pradesh
    Indian Birds 14(3): 90

    PDF, 314 KB

  • Report
    Hornbill Nest Adoption Program - 2018 Breeding Season
    HNAP 2018 Report

    PDF, 1.64 MB

  • Report
    Hornbill Watch Report June 2014 to February 2017
    Aparajita Datta, Manisha Rao
    June 2017, www.hornbills.in

    PDF, 1.18 MB

  • Report
    Hornbill Nest Adoption Program - 2017 Breeding Season
    HNAP 2017 Report

    PDF, 1.53 MB

  • Journal Article
    Field to a forest: Patterns of forest recovery following shifting cultivation in the Eastern Himalaya
    Forest Ecology & Management http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.foreco.2016.01.006

    The patterns of vegetation recovery in shifting cultivation landscapes that undergo a cycle of clearing, cultivation and forest regeneration are not well understood in Asian tropical forests. We determined for- est recovery patterns by comparing species composition, richness and forest structure in early and late fallows formed following shifting cultivation and in an uncut forest site in a mid-elevation subtropical forest in the Indian Eastern Himalaya. We also examined changes in functional traits of tree species to understand recovery processes with succession. Tree species richness in the 12, 25 and 50-year old sites was 37%, 54% and 82% the value of the richness in uncut forest, respectively, while basal area was 33%, 25% and 41% of the value in uncut forest, respectively. Species composition recovery, however, was low; with even the oldest fallow (50-year fallow) being less than 50% similar to uncut forest in terms of composition. Successional sites that recover over long periods may differ compositionally from uncut forest within a shifting cultivation landscape as these forests are often prone to other anthropogenic dis- turbances. Functional trait analysis revealed that early fallows were colonized by tree species that are animal-dispersed, insect-pollinated with small fruits and seeds, whereas uncut forest and late succes- sional forests were dominated by species that were tall, self-dispersed, wind-pollinated and of high wood density that are dominant mature forest species in the Himalaya. These results are in contrast with the patterns in functional traits of tree species in successional sites from the Neotropics. This points to the importance of site-specificity in succession following shifting cultivation.

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