Research in the natural and social sciences has been hosted by RAMBLE for the past seven years, resulting in 1 PhD and 5 masters theses with more of both in the works. Long-term vegetation monitoring of the Banni is now in its sixth year; community-led restoration of the Banni grassland is in its second year and a major exploration of the impacts of Prosopis julifora on bio-physical and socio-economic variables is ongoing. An annual research seminar is being revived to enable a sharing of research findings with academic peers as well as with the pastoralist community, for feedback and to seek direction on future research.

Past Projects

Recipients of the Jaikrishna Indraji Thaker Research Opportunity

Holocene paleoecology of the Banni

Anusree A. S., NCBS *

Anusree studied the Holocene paleoecology of the Banni grasslands for her PhD in an attempt to explain the various drivers of ecosystem changes over the past several millennia. She used soil cores and multiple proxies including pollen, stable isotopes, charcoal, herbivore dung and fungal spores towards reconstructing vegetation, climate, fire events and patterns of herbivory over the very long term.
Pillai, A. A., Anoop, A., Sankaran, M., Sanyal, P., Jha, D. K., & Ratnam, J., 2017. Mid-late Holocene vegetation response to climatic drivers and biotic disturbances in the Banni grasslands of western India. Palaeogeography, palaeoclimatology, palaeoecology, 485, 869-878.
Pillai, A. A., Anoop, A., Prasad, V., Manoj, M. C., Varghese, S., Sankaran, M., & Ratnam, J., 2018. Multi-proxy evidence for an arid shift in the climate and vegetation of the Banni grasslands of western India during the mid-to late-Holocene. The Holocene, 28(7), 1057-1070.
Basu, S., Sanyal, P., Pillai, A. A., & Ambili, A., 2019. Response of grassland ecosystem to monsoonal precipitation variability during the Mid-Late Holocene: Inferences based on molecular isotopic records from Banni grassland, western India. PloS one, 14(4), e0212743.

Role of grazing and Prosopis juliflora in shaping Banni’s ecology

Priyanka Runwal, NCBS *

Priyanka’s work focussed on understanding the role of two key players in shaping the ecology of the Banni grasslands i.e. livestock grazing and invasion by Prosopis juliflora. She studied herbaceous vegetation composition and plant traits along gradients of grazing intensity to understand this relationship. Part of this work was also to understand if Prosopis juliflora densities have impacts on soil nutrient properties (C and N) and understory vegetation dynamics (biomass, C:N).

Site occupancy and den-site selection of Desert Fox

Chetan Misher, Kota University *

As part of his master’s dissertation, Chetan studied the diet, den-site selection, and occupancy of the desert fox as a function of Prosopis juliflora cover. He used transects and camera-trapping to show that desert fox occupancy is negatively affected by Prosopis juliflora density. Herb cover and distance from water appear to determine den site selection by the fox. Scat analysis showed that the diet of this species consists mainly of insects. The study suggests that this is a dietary generalist but habitat specialist species.

Resource partitioning among sympatric canids

Kadambari Devarajan, NCBS *

As part of her master’s dissertation research, Kadambari Devarajan’s study involved identifying the determinants of the distribution, landscape use and intra-guild interactions between sympatric canids. She set camera traps to capture images of animals in 78 cells across Banni, each of which were 16 km2 in size. Her study showed that dogs use the area around villages the most, which overlaps with jackal use of the landscape. The desert fox and the Indian fox, on the other hand, preferred terrain at some distance from human habitation.

Responses of nocturnal rodents to bush encroachment

Anisha Jayadevan, NCBS *

As part of her master’s dissertation research, Anisha explored the effects of bush encroachment on the foraging behaviour of nocturnal rodents. She quantified foraging behaviour using the giving-up density (GUD) framework, across two sites that differed in the extent of bush encroachment. Her study shows that rodents in the site with high bush encroachment exhibited higher foraging costs (higher GUD) in early summer compared to the site with low bush encroachment. Sites with dense bush supported higher richness and relative abundance of generalist rodents, compared with sites with sparse bush. This suggested that bush encroachment may be associated with higher foraging costs for nocturnal rodents, with associated changes in rodent species composition.
Jayadevan, A., Mukherjee, S., & Vanak, A. T., 2018. Bush encroachment influences nocturnal rodent community and behaviour in a semi-arid grassland in Gujarat, India. Journal of Arid Environments, 153, 32-38.

Current Projects

The Banni grasslands in a time of change: Ecological and
socioeconomic resilience in a coupled human-natural system.

Supported by the Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in
Research (PEER) program with funds provided by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). PI: Dr. Ankila Hiremath,
Dr. Abi Tamim Vanak

Banni has been significantly transformed in the past few decades by Prosopis juliflora, an introduced nitrogen-fixing tree that has invaded almost half of the Banni. To some, this exemplifies successful ‘wasteland reclamation.’ But P. juliflora has replaced native trees and grassland, altered habitats for birds and animals, and reduced grazing areas for livestock. P. juliflora has also spawned a parallel charcoal economy, profoundly affecting pastoralists’ livelihoods and cultures. In the process, it has created trade-offs between charcoal-based livelihoods and pastoralist livelihoods, between carbon converted to charcoal and carbon sequestered, and between livestock and wildlife. This project, funded by USAID’s programme on Partnership for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER), aims to develop a predictive understanding of the P. juliflora spread with climate change and to evaluate the extent to which it is possible to remove P. juliflora and restore Banni’s grasslands. The project addresses questions such as whether it is ecologically feasible to restore these grasslands or whether P. juliflora has transformed them irreversibly; also, whether it is socio-economically feasible to completely restore grasslands, or whether charcoal-based livelihoods are here to stay. To this end, the project is also developing a systems dynamics model of the Banni that could serve as a decision support tool to share with stakeholders to evaluate alternative management options and their implications for the ecological and socioeconomic resilience of Banni. Click here for more details.

Transformation of human-grassland relationship under development interventions in Banni *

Ovee Thorat, ATREE

Arid and semi-arid grasslands have often been seen as wastelands, and nomadic and semi-nomadic pastoralists as backward, in need of being brought into the mainstream. Development interventions have often resulted in sedentarisation and rangeland fragmentation in different parts of the world. On the other hand, there is a growing knowledge base that argues in support of pastoral mobility, from an adaptive and ecological standpoint. Recent debates around social justice and common property institutions, have resulted in pastoral mobility being introduced back into rangeland management policies. Turner (2011) calls this the New Pastoral Development Paradigm. So far, these ideas have not been effective on the ground, which demands in-depth studies that explain possible reasons for its failure. By understanding the functioning of various actors present in the Banni, Ovee intends to centrally engage with the concerns relating to the ineffectiveness of the new rangeland development paradigm. After years of state control, these grasslands have become opened to a multitude of actors and interests. NGOs, who are the main actors now, envision these landscapes as a commons. Amidst increasing agriculture, resorts, dairy units, chemical industries, and tourism festivals in the landscape, a main question asked in this study is, is it possible to treat Banni as a commons?

Plural realities of plant invasion: understanding the novel socioeconomic impacts of Prosopis juliflora invasion in the Banni grassland.

Ramya Ravi, ATREE

“Novel ecosystems” is a framework that takes into account the novel state of the transformed system, and the novel benefits it might offer, so as to develop alternative management plans. This framework recognizes that transformed systems are viewed with value-based filters, and thus allows for a recognition of socio-economic barriers, in addition to ecological barriers, in any restoration to a former state. Ramya uses this framework in Banni where the introduced Prosopis juliflora, has transformed the landscape ecologically, socio-economically and culturally. With the hypothesis that Banni is now a novel ecosystem as a result of this invasion, her main objective is to understand the socioeconomic impacts of this invasion on all communities of the Banni, towards the development of an inclusive management plan for Banni.

Linking intra & inter-guild interactions to understand a multi-species assemblage in an arid socio-ecological system in western India.

Chetan Misher, ATREE

This study is focussed on assessing the impact of landscape changes -- specifically Prosopis juliflora invasion, agriculture and free-ranging dog population -- on the predator, prey, and scavenger guild in the arid landscape of western India. The carnivore community of the landscape is mainly composed of four species of wild canids, the Indian fox, Vulpes bengalensis, the desert fox, Vulpes vulpes pusilla, the golden jackal, Canis aureus, and the Indian wolf, Canis lupus. For the mesocarnivore guild, rodents are the main prey community in the landscape. Resident and migratory species of vultures form the major scavenger guild in the study area. Apart from changing land-cover through invasive species and agriculture expansion, a major change in the landscape occurred during the 1990s when a 99% decline of Gyps vulture populations was reported across the country. It has been hypothesized that this massive decline has allowed the population of free-ranging domestic dogs to grow exponentially, with attendant risks of disease transmission.

Long-term monitoring

Baseline vegetation monitoring of the dynamic Banni landscape has been one of RAMBLE’s major goals from the start. This has involved annual documentation and analysis of herbaceous and woody vegetation. For this, numerous fixed transects located over the Banni are used to enumerate the vegetation diversity and abundance using the point intercept method. Detailed measurements of woody vegetation, particularly Prosopis juliflora are also carried out alongside.


With support from the Axis Bank Foundation, Sahjeevan is working closely with panchayat-level Community Forest Management Committees to clear Prosopis juliflora from a portion of the Banni as part of an effort aimed at restoring the Banni grassland. The project is also supporting work aimed at restoring lands that have been encroached upon for purposes of cultivation. Sahjeevan and RAMBLE staff is involved with monitoring a range of vegetation parameters (biomass, diversity, species richness) in response to these interventions.

Education and outreach

Many schools and colleges from various parts of the country have participated in education and outreach programmes undertaken in collaboration with RAMBLE. These are largely structured around orienting urban school children to the cultural, economic and ecological dimensions of pastoral lives. This is not a structured programme so far, but there is an ongoing discussion of what one might look like. RAMBLE currently hosts the Salim Mama Course on Pastoral Ecosystems aimed at youth interested in working on pastoralism.

Salim Mama Course on Pastoral Ecosystems

Salim Node was a respected agyavan - a pastoralist leader who broght togther not just the local community but other actors who supported the land rights movement in Banni. He could engage with people effortlessly, often showcasing deep knowledge and understanding of the livestock, grass species, and wildlife in the landscape. Salim Mama Course in Pastoral Ecology, named in his memory, aims to involve the local youth in forming a holistic understanding of the landscape so that they can undertake their own projects.

Any individual in the age group 18 - 25 may participate in this six month long course, although it primarily targets the youth of Banni and MSc (Environmental Science) students of Kutch University. 

The objective of the course is to help students understand the connections between pastoralism and pastoral ecosystems, and better develop the necessary skills to work actively on issues related to pastoralism. The course is offered twice a year and will be managed by Sahjeevan with support from the Earth Science Department of Kutch University. Sahjeevan, CfP staff, ATREE, and Kutch University faculty, along with a variety of guest faculty will teach the course. Sahjeevan will invite pastoral Bhagia’s (knowledge bearers), conservation biologists, sociologists and legal experts to help design and teach the course. 

As part of this course, students will get to use the ongoing implementation of the grassland restoration by Community Forest Management Committees as an opportunity to learn planning, implementation, monitoring, and research. They will also be taken for learning exposures outside the Banni. That pastoral and MSc students are learning together will provide valuable cross-cultural learning opportunities. 

The hope is that over a two-year period, each Community Forest Management Committee will send 2-3 youth to participate in the course, and that over time these will become the key functionaries of their respective CMFCs. In time, the course may be offered to youth from pastoral communities in other parts of the country.

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Field station located at:
Banni Research Centre,
Hodko village, Bhuj,
Gujarat 370510
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