The central paradigm of our research is that an essential component of adaptive evolution is the covariation among traits representing adaptations. In particular, modularity, phenotypic integration and the intra-individual variation of traits can have a functional role and hence and adaptive value subject to natural selection.
What we do in the lab?
We describe complex phenotypes of individuals and we assess its relationship with their reproductive success.
We perform experiments to proof the causality between complex phenotypes and individual fitness
We use the comparative method to detect the relationship between complex phenotypes and different environments or ecological contexts.
We use ecological information to produce different solutions for socio-environmental challenges
Evolution of phenotypic integration
Through the identification of complex phenotypes, we try to understand the adaptive value of non-additive interactions among quantitative traits in different ecological and evolutionary scenarios.For example, we use
flowers as functional modules to understand if natural selection acts on individual traits or on particular sets conforming functional modules (considering their phenotypic integration as the target of natural selection). Likewise, we use leaves as functional modules of resources assimilation that also has to perform other functions, such as herbivore defense, to investigate the synergies and constraints on the evolution of leaf traits.
Evolution of intra-individual variance of traits associated with plant-animal interactions
For many years, the evolution of traits involved in biotic interactions has been studied through the adaptive changes in their main values. However, during the past decades it has been recognized that the variance in these attributes can play a central role and constitute itself and adaptive trait. We have developed different hypotheses to test de adaptive value of the intra-individual variance in different traits. Using artificial flowers or characterizing the intra-individual variance in plant signals and rewards produced in flowers, fruits and extrafloral nectaries we have demonstrated that their variance can represent a mechanism to reduce the cost associated with mutualistic interactions, without losing their benefits. For example, we found that the significant variation between signals and rewards can operate as a cheating mechanism that allows maximizing the benefits for plants when interacting with their pollinators (Benitez-Vieyra et al. 2010, Castillo et al. 2012).
Applied Evolutionary Ecology
We are concerned about the socio-environmental situation of our country, and we believe it is time to contribute with possible solutions. Hence, in the lab we have developed different projects to provide relevant information on the ecology and biogeography of invasive species, and we also have developed a transdisciplinary framework with different stakeholders to co-produce solutions and trigger a transition towards sustainable cattle ranching in tropical areas of Mexico.