As a plant ecologist, I am broadly interested in the mechanisms that explain the structure and physionomy of vegetation and the plant community composition. BS and MS by the Complutense University of Madrid, I have worked in plant diversity conservation projects, and on the effects of (anthropogenic) nitrogen deposition on Mediterranean shrublands in Spain before coming to Princeton. My interest for theoretical ecology awakened during my undergraduate studies, when I worked in my first modeling project, trying to develop a simple model of carbon uptake and storage in Spanish Holm Oak stands. I joined the Pacala lab as a graduate student in 2016 motivated by my interest in the theoretical approach to understanding shrublands and the threats they are facing due to anthropogenic global change.
Grasslands have played an important role in the development of humanity by providing lands frequently visited by species of hunting value, or potential grounds for productive pastoralism and agriculture. At the same time, forests have historically supplied with useful products like timber and wood, and they are regarded today as valuable ecosystems rich in biodiversity, and as atmospheric carbon sinks that may contribute buffering the climate change threats. However, shrublands have historically been undervalued by humankind, and by extension understudied by science. The shrubland is an overlooked system laying between the productive pastures and the rich forests. A system that we burn, clear, build on, or even pretend to restore assuming they are degraded stages of land. We know today that shrublands do not just fall between two stools. While some shrubs may be characteristic of intermediate successional stages or elements of the understory of forests, shrublands can also be biodiverse mature systems that deserve our attention and should be conserved. Indeed, tundra, Mediterranean and semi-arid shrublands cover 26-36% of the world land surface. Concretely, the Mediterranean biome barely exceeds 1% of the earth surface concentrating a disproportionate 20% of vascular plants biodiversity with a striking level of endemicity close to 50% . Nevertheless, Mediterranean and semi-arid regions are threatened by an increasing frequency of drought due to climate change, and desertification has been identified as a major threat menacing the stability of these systems. For these and for more reasons –such as an emotional link with the landscapes in which I was born and raised, I have decided to devote my years as PhD student in Princeton University department of Ecology and Evolutionary biology to study the ecology of semiarid shrublands and understanding the natural rules that shape their structure and dynamics.