Current Research in Vanasiri

The diversity of life around us is immensely fascinating, and we have only started understanding some of the complex and intricate evolutionary processes that have shaped this breathtaking diversity. Diversification comprises (i) Speciation, which gives rise to new species and generates macroevolutionary patterns (ii) Intra-specific divergences among populations of a species, which are mediated by natural selection and form the basis for speciation. Our lab is interested in addressing both aspects of diversification. Given that we are interested in diversity, we are also diverse in terms of study systems – we have ongoing projects on butterflies, plants and reptiles. Current (non-mutually exclusive) themes of research include

    Prey-predator interactions:

  Predation is one of the strongest selective forces in nature. Prey animals have evolved a spectacular diversity of strategies to avoid being eaten by predators, including mimicry, aposematism, various kinds of crypsis and behaviors. Our lab is interested in the evolution of anti-predatory strategies, especially those involving colour patterns. We also investigate how such anti-predatory strategies have influenced diversification.

Selected Publications: Mukherjee and Kodandaramaiah 2015 (BMC Evol Biol), Murali and Kodandaramaiah 2016 (Roy Soc Open Sci), Kodandaramaiah 2010 (Behav Ecol)


    Insect-plant coevolution

  There is something about herbivory. Herbivorous insects comprise half of all eukaryote species, and shifts from carnivory to herbivory have repeatedly increased insect diversification rates. Coevolutionary interactions between insects and their hostplants therefore have a prominent place in the quest to understand diversification. In our lab, we try to understand insect-plant coevolution using both experimental work and molecular ecological approaches (including phylogenetics and phylogeography/population genetics).

Selected Publications: van Bergen et al 2016 (Funct Ecol), Kodandaramaiah et al 2012 (PLoS ONE), Kodandaramaiah e al 2011 (J Evol Biol)

    Phenotypic plasticity

  Phenotypic plasticity – the ability of the same genotype to give rise to varying phenotypes depending on the environment – is a widespread adaptive strategy. It is now recognized that phenotypic plasticity can provide the raw material for the underlying phenotypes to eventually diverge genetically. Current projects in our lab investigate adaptive phenotypic plasticity of adult and immature colour patterns in butterflies.

Selected Publications: Mayekar and Kodandaramaiah 2017 (PLoS ONE)


    Molecular ecology

  Phylogenetic and population genetic/phylogeographic information provide the framework on which diversification is studied. Phylogenies are needed to understand macroevolutionary questions, for e.g. what ecological factors led to an increase or decrease in diversification. Population genetic/phylogeographic tools allow us to estimate the extent of geneflow across populations – information needed to understand intraspecific diversification. Therefore, phylogenetics and population genetics/phylogeography are recurrent themes across various projects in our lab.

Selected Publication: Sahoo et al 2016 (PeerJ)


    Life history Traits

  This is a relatively new area of research in our lab. Among other things, we are currently using plant model systems to understand the evolutionary tradeoff between offspring size and number, and the selective forces that bear upon this.



  We also have ongoing projects where we use simulations to test the statistical performance of widely used algorithms in phylogenetics.


Approaches and Techniques employed in the lab:

  • Laboratory experiments
  • Field experiments
  • Phylogenetics, phylogeography/population genetics
  • Genetics
  • Comparative methods
  • Simulations

Apart from research, Ullasa is actively involved in, and is an editor for, the peer-reviewed web-resource Butterflies of India which aims to be the most comprehensive and updated source of information about Indian butterflies.

Along with students of IISER-TVM and other collaborators, we plan to survey the flora and fauna the upcoming IISER-TVM campus in Vithura and surrounding areas. We aim to make the locality one of the most comprehensively surveyed in India, with special emphasis on lesser studied invertebrate groups. We are also involved in setting up long-term biodiversity monitoring plots. More information in the Biodiversity of Vithura website.