Population history of Macaronesian birds
I use molecular tools and fieldwork approaches to investigate evolutionary and ecological patterns and processes at both the individual and population level.
Much of this work has focused on island birds (using extinct and extant taxa) where I investigate the causes and consequences of adaptive (and non-adaptive) genetic variation in relation to understand the mechanisms driving avian radiations.
At the species level this involves extensive field based observational studies (including measurements of morphological and acoustics traits) aligned with comprehensive tissue sampling within isolated endemic avian populations.
At the population level, this has involved sampling across oceanic archipelagos to assess spatio-temporal pattern of genetic and ecological variation and understand the role of contingent and deterministic evolutionary forces in shaping genomic and phenotypic variation.
Biogeography, Ecology and Speciation in stonechats
The avian genus Saxicola is an interesting group due to its broad distribution (Africa, Asia, Europe and various islands across Oceania), and because two species within this genus, S. torquata and S. caprata, have undergone dramatic diversification resulting in more than 25 and 16 subspecies, respectively. In fact, within the S. torquata complex some subspecies are now considered true species.
I started my interest with this group studying the Canary Islands stonechat (Saxicola dacotiae) that has one of the most restrictive distributions within Palaearctic, occurring only on the island of Fuerteventura. I am still using this endemic bird species like a model to ascertain the ecological adaptations of birds living in arid environments but also to ascertain the reasons of its narrow range distribution.
Moreover, I am collaborating with some friends to understand the ecological and evolutionary mechanisms working in the differentiation (incipient speciation?) of some selected populations within the S. torquata complex.
Despite my primary research is focused on birds, I realise that invertebrates are really ideal animals to understand adaptations to alpine habitats in non-model species.
Here I am collaborating with Paola Laiolo and José Ramón Obeso to understand reasons and consequences of such adaptations in alpine grasshoppers in terms of morphology, behavioural ecology and genetic structure.
The ecological and evolutionary role of pathogens in wild birds
There is an increasing concern about the effect of emergent diseases in the conservation of island endemic bird species. Pathogens mediated selection plays a major role, but the exact nature and extent of this selection remains unclear.
Because prevalence pattern differs considerably among islands, it does of Macaronesian archipelagos ideal study areas for understanding a range of evolutionary and ecological questions in host-parasite systems such as diversity of parasites, host specificity, influence of pathogens on host survival, immunocompetence and the role of the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) in parasite resistance.