Aparajita Datta

Senior Scientist, Nature Conservation Foundation

Aparajita leads NCF’s Eastern Himalaya programme (see http://ncf-india.org/programmes/eastern-himalaya), under which research and community-based conservation with hornbills as a flagship have been carried out for 20 years. She completed her PhD on hornbill biology and their role in seed dispersal in 2000. Aparajita has been involved in research and conservation in Arunachal Pradesh since 1995. For the last 18 years, she and her team have been engaged in research and conservation with communities in Arunachal Pradesh and since 2013, in some other parts of north-east India. Her work has encompassed long-term research on hornbill biology in north-east India (breeding biology, roosting, diet), hornbill movement and seed dispersal using telemetry, and a citizen science initiative for hornbills called Hornbill Watch (www.hornbills.in). A Hornbill Nest Adoption Program set up in 2011 protects hornbill nests in forests outside a Protected Area, while providing income to people. A forest restoration project was started in 2014 to help recover degraded forests in Arunachal and Assam. Since 2017, she has also been involved in regional collaboration for conservation of endangered hornbills in SE Asia, especially for the Helmeted Hornbill in Indonesia. She is also currently the Co-Chair (Asia) for the IUCN SSC Hornbill Specialist Group which is trying to facilitate hornbill conservation and research at a global level. Since 2017, the work of the Eastern Himalaya program has also expanded to sites in eastern Assam and north Bengal for research and conservation of hornbills. While a primary focus of her work has been on hornbills, she has studied tree squirrels, carried out exploration surveys that led to new mammal discoveries in Arunachal, camera-trapping studies for mammal species, examined hunting and logging impacts, seed dispersal & seed predation, and long-term monitoring of tree phenology. She has also engaged with communities for conservation that includes initiatives on education, health, rural energy and livelihoods, some of which she views as failures in terms of their conservation outcomes. When she is not in the field, she finds joy in watching and photographing birds in the city and making lists on eBird.She has been a member of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and the State Wildlife Advisory Board of Arunachal and engaged with the government on the management/evaluation of some tiger reserves and several Protected Areas and critiqued proposed hydro-power projects in north-east India. She has written several books for children and helped initiate a Nature Education program for children in Arunachal in 2017. She has published her research work in over 40 peer-reviewed articles. She also writes popular articles and has a blog in which she writes infrequently about her field experiences and work. Her work has received recognition through several awards, including the National Geographic Emerging Explorer award (2010) and the Whitley Fund for Nature award (2013).

Aparajita Datta

Symposium Lecture

Frugivory and seed dispersal by hornbills – are they truly farmers of the forest?

My talk will examine the evidence for the functional role that forest hornbills play as seed dispersers in the tropical forests of the Eastern Himalaya. I will present the key results of understanding the qualitative and quantitative aspects of seed dispersal effectiveness of hornbills through an assessment of visitation rates and fruit removal at fruiting trees, seed handling behaviour, treatment of seeds in the gut, the sites of seed deposition and their suitability for germination and the post-dispersal fate of seeds and distances that seeds are dispersed from parent trees. This understanding of the significant role played by hornbills as seed dispersers has emerged from my initial observational studies in the nineties to addressing some key questions with students/colleagues through methods such as telemetry by tagging hornbills in 2014-15.