I integrate a wide range of experimental and methodological approaches to investigate the effects of air pollution and climate change on biogeochemical processes and community assembly in terrestrial ecosystems, as well as the capacity of these ecosystems to provide key services such as carbon storage and soil fertility.
During my scientific career, I have developed a comprehensive approach to study the impacts of nitrogen deposition on terrestrial ecosystems. My initial interest in the communities of annual and woody plants gradually led to a much more general interest in ecological interactions, such as mycorrhizae or competition/facilitation between plant species, the spatial distribution and physiology of biological soil crusts, soil faunal communities, as well as the functioning of ecosystems in general, especially in relation to processes associated with nutrient cycling, such as N fixation, mineralization, greenhouse gas fluxes, and the capacity of ecosystems to generate key services such as soil carbon storage. This last question continues to interest me very much today, given its relevance in the context of the current climate change and the need to generate information that can be reliably integrated into Earth-System models.
In 2016, I returned to Spain after a three-year postdoc in Australia with a prestigious Juan de la Cierva-Incorporation Fellowship. During this time at the Autonomous University of Madrid (2016-2019), I investigated how the disruption of ecological networks as a result of global environmental change, on the one hand, and the loss of multitrophic biodiversity, on the other, affect the functionality of ecosystems. As a result of my work, I pioneered studies demonstrating how ecosystem networks become significantly disconnected in response to nitrogen addition. I have also worked on the elaboration of meta-analyses on the effect of nitrogen deposition on moss and lichen communities and on the effects of grazing abandonment on soil fertility and microbial activity in dehesas of central Spain. In addition, during this period I extended my area of specialization to the analysis of spatially explicit data as a result of my role as coordinator of the unit “Spatial dynamics in ecology” of the Master of Ecology of the Autonomous University of Madrid.
I have spent a significant proportion of my scientific career (approximately four years) in international research institutions. Three of these years I worked at the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment (HIE) of Western Sydney University, Australia, a prestigious research center that hosts a multitude of world-renowned researchers in the study of the consequences of global change for terrestrial ecosystems. During this time, I carried out novel research on the effects of climate change (changes in precipitation regimes and increase in CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere) and the eutrophication of ecosystems in above- and belowground ecosystem structure and processes (nutrient cycling and composition and activity of microbial communities), within a plant-soil-microbial interactions framework. I have also become an active member of international research networks such as the Nutrient Network (NutNet, http://www.nutnet.umn.edu/) and the DroughtNet (http://drought-net.colostate.edu/).
I am passionate about nature, science and research and strive to excel at all my undertakings through day-to-day effort and commitment to contribute to a better society. This is clearly reflected in the Extraordinary Awards I received and the national and international reach of some of my initiatives. I have so far published forty-two SCI articles, twenty-seven as the first and four as the second author. My publications have been cited 601 times and my h-index based on Scopus is 13 (h-index = 16 and 875 citations based on Google Scholar; 12/10/2018). In addition, I have authored a total of eight book chapters and scientific reports and have five scientific publications under consideration in top-tier journals.
During the last years, I have worked extensively in the development of novel ideas about the loss of ecosystem coupling under global change scenarios and what this means for ecosystem functioning. The results of this work have crystallised as a single-authored publication in a highly reputed journal (Ecology) and a publication in a high-rank multidisciplinary journal (Nature Communications), a testament to the ground-breaking nature of this research and my potential to move the field forward as an independent researcher.
Due to my strong commitment to work and my outstanding networking skills, I have also extensively carried out and greatly contributed to inspire research about how air pollution and climate change affect Mediterranean-type ecosystems, including the organization of international initiatives such as CAPERmed, a bi-annual conference that fosters the cooperation amongst air pollution and climate change researchers in the Mediterranean-Basin region.
However, if there is a truly defining characteristic of my scientific career is that in each new stage I have consistently created new collaborations with key researchers in my areas of interest and looked for new ideas and intellectual and methodological challenges that allowed me to better understand from an integrative point of view what a functionally healthy ecosystem is and the linkages between healthy ecosystems and healthy people. This is clearly reflected in the several synthesis papers, editorials and opinion papers that I have published over the years, alone and in collaboration, and which have allowed me to deeply reflect about a wide variety of topics.
Together with the forty-two publications, I have presented my work in fifty-four national and international conferences and have obtained and/or contributed to obtain four competitively funded projects, in two of which I was the PI. During my post-docs, I also actively participated in other competitively funded projects, including European and Australian projects.