Current research projects in the lab

Effects of plant phylogenetic diversity and ontogeny on herbivore and natural enemies communities 

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Plant phylogenetic diversity can have important impacts on plant productivity and arthropod communities. In particular, the quantity and quality of plants as a food for herbivores can vary as a function of competitive interactions and resource availability driven by plant phylogenetic diversity. This dynamics, however, are likely to change over plant ontogeny. In this project, we seek to understand the influence of plant phylogenetic diversity on funcional proceses (plant growth rates, leaf quality for herbivores, etc), ecological properties (diversity and composition of soil microbiota, herbivore, and predator communities) and ecosystem functions (productivity , carbon fixation, decomposition rates, etc). To understand the role of plant ontogeny, we study these processes through time in experimental tropical plant communities.

Socio-environmental transitions towards sustainable cattle ranching systems: intensive silvopastoral systems with restoration islands.

In this project we seek to trigger regional processes of productive transitions from the traditional extensive cattle ranching towards more sustainable and diversified productive systems. This challenge requires a transdisciplinary research approach in which different stakeholders are involved to co-design the most suitable and preferred practices for this transition. In particular, intensive silvopastoral systems are proposed as an alternative to increase productivity of milk and meat, but with the benefit of a reduction in the area needed for this activity and, as a result of a better digestion of the animals, a reduction in the amount of greenhouse gases released to the atmosphere. Within this system, we also consider the restoration of riparian areas with native vegetation, favoring connectivity among forest fragments, increasing carbon fixation and recovering ecosystems services of local biodiversity.

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Use of Tithonia diversifolia (Asteraceae) as a highly nutritious plant in silvopastoral systems 

The use of Tithonia diversifolia as a highly nutritious forage species for cattle ranching has increased in the last decades in Latin America and the Caribbean . Due to low germination rates (0-19%), this species is usually vegetatively propagated, which increases the costs of implementing silvopastoral systems, decreases plant vigor  and reduces the genetic diversity of local populations. In this project we investigate if the low germination rates are related to the physiological latency of seeds of due to the  incompatibility reproductive system of the species. We also study the origin, recent and  and historic distributions of the species.

Evolution of modularity and phenotypic integration in traits mediating biotic interactions.

Despite that flowers are one of the functional modules best studied in plants, the historical approach to understand their evolution has focused on evolutionary changes of individual traits.  Our research seeks to understand the evolution of flowers as integrated modules, with properties that determine the direction and intensity of the joint evolution of multiple traits, as well as their diversification rates. The projects within this research line seek to understand the most relevant intrinsic and environmental factors explaining the inter and intraspecific variation in the properties of functional modules. Specifically, we focus on the role of mating systems and the interaction with different pollinator guilds on shaping modularity and phenotypic integration of flowers.

Evolutionary biology in the invasion process of the cactus moth Cactoblastis cactorum in Northamerica and the Caribeann 

The cactus moth Cactoblastis cactorum  is one of the invasive species threatening food security in Mexico, due its devastating effects on Opuntia  species, including nopales. For this reason, Mexico government has active control measures at the borders and across the country to prevent any invasion event. In this project, we aim to evaluate, though genomic analyses, the adaptive potential of this species to the specific environmental conditions of Mexico and assess the potential spread of this invasive species. With his information, we will determine which regions have a high risk of invasion. This information will contribute to the prevention efforts and provide guidelines for the monitoring programs in the NorthAmerica region.

Ontogenetic trajectories in plant defense

Physiological priorities drastically change over plant development, as a function of the adaptive value of growth, defense, storage, maintainance and reproduction at each ontogenetic stage. As a consequence, changes in the expression of plant defenses against their herbivores are quite common in most species. This project aims to understand the adaptive role of ontogenetic trajectories in plant defense, and assess how natural selection shapes this complex phenotype, favoring ontogenetic switches in the expression of different defensive mechanisms.

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