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Congratulations! Atul Joshi Awarded the Harper Prize by the British Ecological Society

The British Ecological Society (BES) has announced the winners of its journal prizes for research published in 2020. 

Among the work of early career researchers recognised by the BES is Atul Joshi’s. The John L Harper Early Career Researcher Award is given each year to the best paper in the Journal of Ecology by an early career author. Atul is one of two recipients of the Harper Prize this year, for the paper titled, “Frost maintains forests and grasslands as alternate states in a montane tropical forest–grassland mosaic; but alien tree invasion and warming can disrupt this balance”.

Atul is an ecologist, he finished his PhD at the National Centre for Biological Sciences recently and is now a post-doctoral fellow at ATREE. He is interested in grassland mosaic ecosystems and understanding what drives the absence of trees in the grasslands of these environments. The in-situ experiments to answer this question revealed the interesting and surprising answers that are reported in the winning paper.

The study shows how alien species can disrupt ecological processes. In their paper, Atul and colleagues, Mahesh Sankaran and Jayashree Ratnam, show that alien species and climate warming can affect the balance between alternate states in a montane tropical forest-grassland mosaic.

“Fire and herbivory are usually considered to drive forest-grassland transitions,” said Professor David Gibson, Senior Editor of Journal of Ecology. “However, through a combination of field germination and seedling survival experiments, Atul showed that frosts and freezing temperatures limit tree establishment into grassland areas of the mosaic.”

Atul described the history of the question he tackled, “This study resolves a century-long academic debate on what maintains the forest-grassland mosaics in the tropical montane forest (shola) - grassland ecosystems in the high elevation Western Ghats Biodiversity Hotspot in India. The results of our research, reported in this paper, provide conclusive empirical evidence for a primary role of frost and freezing temperatures in limiting tree establishment in grasslands of these highly diverse mosaic ecosystems.”


The contents of this announcement have been republished from the announcement on the BES site with permission. The complete list of journal prize winners can be found here:

Background image credit of the poster: Prasanjeet Yadav