Research

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy main research interest is Soil Ecology, meaning the study of interactions between and within abiotic and biotic factors in the soil ecosystem. I am fascinated by the complexity of the soil system, as millions of microorganism can inhabit 1 grame of soil. These soil interactions are shaped by biotic factors as the plant community and positive/negative relationships between soil microorganisms, and abiotic factors as climate, and soil physicochemical characteristics. My Soil Ecology research includes areas as Mycology, Soil Science, Biogeochemistry, Ecosystem and Community Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, and also some Agronomy and Geology; specifically, I am focused on the study of:

– The plant-soil-ecosystem continuum: specifically seeking the mechanisms and ecological theories by which the dual relationship between soil microorganisms (microbial ecology) and biogeochemical cycles (ecosystem ecology) is established. I would like to found causal relationships between different types of soil microbial diversity/structure (alpha, structural, functional, phylogenetic, and of co-occurrence networks) and biogeochemical cycles/processes (carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous, soil formation, etc.). For example, for my doctoral thesis I studied the geological (ecosystem age), biogeochemical (nutrient dynamics), and soil fungal community factors (mycorrhizal types, and its different diversity measurements) that affect the process of biogenic weathering of the parent material of temperate rainforests in southern Chile. Soil biogenic weathering is the process by which rocks are degraded by soil biota up to reaching the molecular level. I am also interested on how plant-related factors and traits, affect and are affected by microbial and ecosystem factors. For example, I would like to understand how the mycorrhizal types of the dominant vegetation affects soil biodiversity and functions.

Figure_1
From my doctoral thesis, ‘Rock eating fungi’ on muscovite under Nothofagus alpina (San Pablo de Tregua Reserve) (a), and on biotite under N. dombeyi (Nahuelbuta National Park), southern Chile.

Soil fungal ecology: understanding how geological/historic (biodiversity refugia, disturbance regimes), biogeochemical (nutrient dynamics), and biotic (associated plant community, interactions between fungal guilds and rhizosphere) affects the alpha, structural, functional, phylogenetic, and network diversity of soil fungal communities. Regarding soil fungi, I have studied their biodiversity, ecosystem functions, and applications in areas as agronomy and ecological restoration. I use modern metagenomic, bioinformatic, and statistical tools on this area of research.

I also am interested on other research areas, as:

Crops/weeds dynamics: mainly studying the effects of density, sowing spatial pattern, and genetic variability on cereal productivity and on their inter-specific competition with weeds.

5 maize plants/m2, rows pattern
10.5 maize plants/m2, rows pattern
10.5 maize plants/m2, grid pattern

Multilevel selection: understanding how natural selection can act on different levels of the biological hierarchy (from molecules to ecosystems), always that the entities on those levels accomplish the requirements for evolution by natural selection to occur (phenotypic variability, differential fitness, and heredability). From an evolutionary game theory perspective, it can be argued that selfish individual always beat in competition to altruist individuals, and altruist groups always beat selfish groups, as was initially proposed by Darwin (1871; The Origin of Man). From a quantitative genetics perspective (adaptive landscapes – shifting balance theory), it can be argued that an individual fitness depends on its own traits and on the traits of the group to which that individual belongs (contextual analysis). When natural selection is very, very strong on a superior level of the biological hierarchy, and is irrelevant in the inferior level, a major transition in evolution is occurring. In this sense, I look to contribute theoretically and mainly empirically to the levels of selection debate in evolutionary biology.

Science sociology, philosophy, and history: I want to understand how science itself works. For example, I have explored religious and evolutionary beliefs among scientists and science students belonging to different areas or contexts. Or I have explored how inductive and deductive reasoning shapes different every-day aspects of the scientific career.