We are interested in a wide number of topics including the evolutionary biology of phenotypic plasticity, the ecology and genetics of floral evolution, the effects of pollinator diversity on plant reproduction, the speciation process, the functionality of pollination networks, etc.
The phenotypic plasticity (PP) is the ability of some genotypes to produce different phenotypes when faced with different environmental conditions. All genotypes alter aspects of their phenotype when the environment varies. Still, the phenotypic response to large climatic variations is especially crucial for organisms that cannot move spatially, such as plants. In some instances, plasticity can be functional, allowing organisms to successfully cope with environmental changes through acclimatization, and can even be adaptive if accompanied by an increase in fitness. Thus, the ability of an organism to respond to or also anticipate environmental changes is crucial to its reproductive success and survival.
The role of PP as an ecological and evolutionary factor has been revitalized in recent years through bringing together genetic, developmental biology, ecological, and evolutionary approaches. In addition to detecting PP in a multitude of traits of diverse organisms, it is essential to know the genetic mechanisms that favor or maintain it and its morphological and ecological effects, with the ultimate aims of determining its causes and evolutionary consequences.
Project MORE: Phenotypic plasticity as a evolutionary driver in Moricandia
The coordinated project “Plasticidad fenotípica como motor evolutivo en Moricandia” (MORE) was funded by the Ministry of Science and Innovation (Project CGL2017-86626).
In this project, we analyzed the genetic basis of a extreme case of phenotypic plasticity in some species of genus Moricandia (Brassicaceae), how it expresses in functional and floral traits, and its importance to understanding the ecology and evolution of this plant genus.
Four species inhabit the Iberian Peninsula: three endemic (M. rytidocarpoides, M. foetida, M. moricandioides) and one circum-Mediterranean (M. arvensis). This last species occurs in agricultural, ruderal, and disturbed habitats from south and east of the peninsula, M. moricandioides occurs in semi-deserts from eastern Spain, and the other two species are narrow-endemic desert species from SE Spain. The three Spanish species bloom during a short period during late winter or spring, whereas M. arvensis has an extended flowering spanning from late winter to summer and even autumn. We think that these differences in distribution and flowering phenology are a consequence, at least partially, of the phenotypic plasticity in functional traits displayed by M. arvensis. We also think that an effect of this functional plasticity is the presence of phenotypic plasticity in floral traits and pollination niches.
Moricandia arvensis, contrasting with the other congeneric species, exhibits ample plasticity in floral traits. Whereas spring flowers are large, cross-shaped, and lilac -similar to those of M. moricandioides-, summer flowers are small, rounded, and white -similar to those of the two desert species-. We will determine the genetic basis of this plasticity by studying the effect of environmental factors in gene expression and analyzing regulatory gene networks. We will also explore the impact of these factors in the phenotypic expression by quantifying the reaction norms of floral traits in the field and in experimental conditions.
Hidden Extinctions: Losing plant diversity in Iberian arid zones as a consequence of the anthropic-mediated expansion of weeds
In this project, funded by the Fundación BBVA (PR17-ECO-0021), we evaluate the consequences of the expansion of weeds associated to human environments on the arid vegetation from the Iberian Peninsula. The specific goal is to check whether the presence of the ruderal species Moricandia arvensis is having a harmful effect on its three co-generic species endemic to arid habitats, namely, M. moricandioides, M. foetida and M. rytidocarpoides.
Brassica nigra as a model for plant invasions
There are increased interests in studies of invasive species due to possibilities of some invaders having strong negative impacts on natives. We are presently using Brassica nigra (Brassicaceae), a native of the Mediterranean region, as a model plant to investigate ecological and evolutionary mechanisms that enable it to invade North and South America.
Flower form is widely considered as an adaptation to increase the interaction with the most efficient pollinators, expressing both at microevolutionary (flower form affects plant fitness) and macroevolutionary level (inter-specific differences in flower form correlated to differences in pollinator assemblage).
Evolution in Generalist Universes (UNIGEN)
The main goal of this project is to investigate how species evolve and lineages diversify as a consequence of generalist ecological interactions. For getting this aim, we will focus in one mage-generalist interaction, the pollination interaction between Brassicaceae species and their floral visitors, focusing on Iberian species.
StruGen -Structured Generalization: evolutionary dynamics at fine spatial scales in a generalist system
The main aim of this project is to explore the occurrence of pollinator-mediated structured generalization, the factors favoring or cancelling it, and their potential evolutionary and functional consequences.
Implementing techniques to species identification in lineages with incomplete separation
The aim of this project is to implement genetic and ecological techniques to the rigorously identification of species in highly diversified groups of taxa (species complex, syngameons).
Geographic mosaic of coevolution in generalized pollination systems
The Geographic Mosaic Theory of Coevolution is a central theory in evolutionary biology nowadays. Most information, however, comes from specialized organisms. In contrast, an accurate understanding of the effect of geographically varying evolutionary dynamics on the evolution of generalist organisms is lacking, although these organisms are the most frequent in nature. Our lab is currently working in the consequences of the spatial variation in selective regimes for the occurrence of geographic mosaic in generalized pollination systems.
Effects of pollinator diversity on plant reproduction and conservation
The role of biological diversity in maintaining ecosystem functioning is a central issue in ecology and conservation. Most studies on diversity-functioning relationships have focused on ecosystem and community levels, but a challenging and still unsolved issue is determining whether it can be generalized to other organization levels, such as populations and individuals. In our lab we are currently exploring this question both from an experimental and a theoretical perspective.
Pollinators can drive adaptive speciation in some plant groups. Accurately determining the role of pollinators in mediating plant speciation requires an integrated approach where microevolutionary studies focusing on the analysis of pollinator-mediated selection be complemented with macroevolutionary studies exploring the evolution of floral traits between phylogenetically-related species. In our lab, we are using this inclusive approach in order to investigate the possibility of adaptive speciation between Erysimum mediohispanicum and E. nevadense.
Mechanisms of speciation in plants associated to mating system transitions (TransSpeciation)
In this project, we analyze a close related group of taxa included in two species belonging to the genus Erysimum L.: E. incanum and E. wilczekianum. Although both species share many phenotypic and habit similarities, they strongly differ in floral sizes and pollinator assemblages.
Ecological and genetic processes producing speciation (PREGEPES)
Ecological and genetic processes producing speciation: the interplay between hybridization, poliploidy, and local adaptation in generalist plants. PREGEPES is a scientific project funded by the Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad.