Research

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Research interests: wordle based on most common text from the abstracts of recent publications.

I am an evolutionary ecologist interested in understanding how organisms respond to environmental stress. In my research, I combine field studies with common garden experiments and laboratory analyses, using amphibians as study models. My current research topics are:

Effects and adaptation patterns to low-dose radiation in wildlife

I have recently started to examine the impact of chronic exposure to low-dose ionizing radiation in wildlife. Specifically, this research line investigates the effects of chronic exposure to human-released ionizing radiation on natural populations of amphibians in Chernobyl. Examining how amphibians cope with the chronic exposure to low-dose ionizing radiation can shed light on the debate over the effects of, and possible adaptive responses to, exposure to low-dose radiation in nature. I am using the European treefrog (Hyla arborea) living in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone as the study model, analysing how treefrogs respond to biological damage as a consequence of living in areas contaminated by radiation. I am analyzing how amphibians respond to radiactive contamination by  comparing different aspects of the genetics, development and physiology of frogs living inside and outside areas affected by radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl accident in 1986.

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Evolutionary ecology of life-history strategies

This research line examines the impact of phenological variation on life history strategies in amphibians. In particular, I have examined the extent, costs and limits of plastic growth and development in amphibian larvae in a context of increasing phenological fluctuation. Main achievements of this line include the identification of the first unequivocal evidence for transgenerational plasticity in response to changes in breeding phenology in vertebrates; the identification of costs paid in offspring exhibiting fast development in response to delayed breeding phenology (e.g. reduced immune response and antipredator defences), and the impact that intra-specific priority effects have on the generalization of these responses.

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At present, I am paying particular attention to the impact of phenological shifts on amphibian skin microbiome, and how this can be related to disease susceptibility. In particular, I am examining the variation in the amphibian skin microbiome across environmental gradients that lead to very different levels of time constraints (e.g. latitudinal and altitudinal gradients). Within this framework, I am also trying to identify probiotic microorganisms in the amphibian skin microbiome (i.e. the skin bacteria that kill fungus pathogens most effectively). I am also investigating the patterns of skin microbiome acquisition in amphibians due to its impact on the implementation of captive breeding programs effective at maintaining microbial diversity and, thus, health in amphibians.

Eco-evolutionary effects of invasive species

The effect that the introduction of exotic species is causing in natural environments has become one of the main environmental concerns of our time. In particular, introduced predators have been identified as one of the factors contributing to the observed global amphibian decline. During my PhD at the University of Oviedo, Spain,  I examined the impact that the introduction of predatory fish (mainly salmonids) have on the distribution, reproductive behaviour and larval development of amphibians, focusing on their impact on several newt species.

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In a recent development of this research line, I have investigated together with researchers at Uppsala University (Anssi Laurila) and the University of Lisbon, Portugal (Rui Rebelo, Ana Nunes, Bruno Carreira), the evolution of antipredator responses against invasive crayfish in an entire community of amphibians. These studies showed that amphibian species are affected differentially by the expansion of the crayfish, highlighting the destabilising role that exotic species can have on natural communities. In addition, these studies suggest that strong selection by invasive predators may drive rapid evolutionary change in invaded communities, inducing the evolution of qualitatively different antipredator defences in function of coexistence time.

Funding

My research is currently funded by the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority, Carl Tryggers Stiftelsen and Stiftelsen för Zoologisk Forskning. I am also collaborating in the projects “Exploring the amphibian skin microbiome: ecological correlates and probiotic use to enhance disease resistance” funded by BBVA Foundation (August 2016, PI: Alfredo G. Nicieza, Univ. Oviedo) and “COordination and iMplementation of a pan-Europe instrumenT for radioecology project” funded by EU-FP7 (June 2013, PI: Hildegarde Vandenhove, Belgian Nuclear Research Centre).

Previous research activities were funded by the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science, Fundación Ramón Areces, Fundación Caja Madrid, Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences, Oscar och Lili Lamms Minne Stiftelse and Helge Ax:son Johnsons Stiftelse.