My research lines
My main research line comprises an integrative study of the main processes driving plant community dynamics in species of forestry or agronomic interest, as well as of the main functional mechanisms developed by these species in response to environmental conditions. My main research line can be grouped into three different issues that strongly interact among them (see conceptual diagram), which in turn can be divided into several sub-lines supported by my experience.
1. Dynamics of Mediterranean plant communities under current and future environmental scenarios
There is a growing interest in understanding and forecasting the responses of plant communities to projected changes of environmental conditions. Main changes in abundance and species composition occurs during the regenerative period, which constitutes the most vulnerable stage of the life cycle of a plant. Multi-stage demographic approaches, where plant recruitment is explored across multiple and consecutive stages, are therefore essential to obtain a whole overview of the consequences of climate change on plant recruitment and community dynamics, but they are still rarely used. During my research career, I have used this multi-stage demographic approach with the final objective of developing mechanistic models based on maximum likelihood estimators that integrate the success probabilities of multiple regeneration stages in response to environmental conditions. A good example of this approach has been published in a top-ranked journal (J. Ecology 100: 267-277). A highly significant contribution of this study was the demonstration of conflicting pressures through plant ontogeny, being the first one that describes seed–seedling conflicts along a continuous gradient of microhabitat conditions.
2. Characterization of functional strategies in Mediterranean plant species
In a time of global change, alteration of biogeochemical cycles, transformation of land-uses and intensification of reemplacement and extinction rates of many species, new approaches are necessary to predict plant community responses to these fast changes. The functional ecology, in relation to which I acquired a large experience during my postdoctoral stay in Montpellier, has emerged recently as a robust and powerful tool for better understanding and forecasting how these on-going changes influence multiple ecosystem services through their effects on underlying ecosystem processes. This approach can be used to develop process-based models that enable us to elucidate the diversity of functional strategies present in Mediterranean plant communities which allow species to persist under different scenarios of environmental and management conditions.
3. Applications for management and conservation of Mediterranean ecosystems
One of the most relevant aspects of my main research line is its double basic and applied perspective. On the one hand, studies on community dynamics (line 1) will provide us a very useful information on the most optimal conditions for regeneration of different species, an information that could be used as a valuable tool for restoration and management plans in Mediterranean ecosystems (line 3). On the other hand, studies on functional strategies (line 2) will be used to: (i) better understand the main underlying mechanisms of Mediterranean plant species to persist under certain environmental conditions; and (ii) to infer several ecosystem properties of ecological and agricultural importance (such as net primary productivity) under different scenarios of climate change. Since functional traits are expected to be strongly associated with the ability of seedling establishment, this functional approach could be also used to predict species-specific probabilities of success in restoration practices (line 3). All this information will be jointly integrated with the final aim of developing models of plant dynamics and functioning that simulate species and community responses to different environmental and management scenarios.