Wetland Ecology

Our group applies many different approaches within inland and estuarine wetlands, with much research carried out in Andalusia (notably Doñana), as well as other parts of the Mediterranean. Our key difference with other research groups is our focus on aquatic systems. Group members have been researching into aquatic birds, amphibians and reptiles for several decades. During the last 15 years we have broadened our research lines and now conduct quality research into aquatic invertebrates and plants, parasites and emergent diseases, and remote sensing of wetlands. We have strength in population dynamics, community and metacommunity ecology, restoration ecology, population genetics, biological invasions and ecotoxicology. Much of our research is focused on the diverse interactions between waterbirds, amphibians or aquatic reptiles and other organisms, and novel research for over a decade has made us world leaders on the passive dispersal of seeds and invertebrates by waterbirds.

We aim to maintain and strengthen our multidisciplinary research of different aspects of wetland ecology and further extend our role in conservation and monitoring issues, favouring knowledge transmission to the society and policy makers.

Our subgroups will address the following research questions:

- Interacciones ecológicas de los anfibios y los reptiles con su entorno. Analizamos en qué medida estas se ven alteradas por variaciones en el desarrollo y que consecuencias evolutivas tiene la plasticidad fenotípica. Aquí nuestro objetivo principal es descubrir los mecanismos reguladores de la plasticidad en el desarrollo, examinar las consecuencias de la plasticidad en el desarrollo sobre las interacciones ecológicas dentro de las comunidades y evaluar el papel de la plasticidad en la evolución de historias de vida.

-Role of waterbirds in ecosystems. We study different ecosystem services provided by waterbirds. We aim to expand our pioneering research into the role of waterbirds as vectors of dispersal firstly by integrating the latest movement ecology approaches, and secondly by studying the dispersal of non-pathogenic microbes by birds and its influence on microbial metacommunities. We will study the effects of colonial waterbirds on their nesting habitat, including the biochemical changes caused by guano inputs in forests and aquatic habitats.

-Thermal environment and birds. Our aim is to study whether nesting birds face adverse thermal conditions (high ambient temperatures) during incubation by means of biophysical mechanisms, such as egg colour or spotting, as well as using nest lining that reduce heat gain. We also analyse the physiological adaptations of incubating birds to thermal conditions. We plan to study in the near future whether other stressors (e.g., contaminants) may interact with the thermal environment in determining the responses of birds to adverse conditions during incubation. This may be important under scenarios of climate change.

-Wetland Invasion and parasites. In close relation with other research lines, we will use ecogenomic approaches to study invasive invertebrates (especially crustaceans and insects) in aquatic systems in the Mediterranean region, and how invaders respond to climate warming, habitat transformation, salinity stress, contaminants and parasites in comparison with the native species they compete with. We also conduct multitrophic research into the consequences of invaders and of helminth parasites for aquatic food webs and ecological functioning.

- Emerging Diseases. We aim to understand the ecological and evolutionary processes that limit and favour the amplification and transmission of pathogens in the wild as well as the susceptibility of hosts and the risk of spillover into humans and livestock. We work on a range of host-pathogen systems in wildlife including vector-borne and directly transmitted pathogens. Our main objectives include understanding the role of biodiversity in the emergence, amplification and spillover of pathogens into humans, horses and other focal species. For this we aim to identify the ecological factors that affect each of these steps for pathogens in the wild. We will assess the importance of environmental factors such as climate change on disease spread.

-Remote sensing. Concentrating in Doñana, we aim to further the use of remote sensing for the monitoring of wetlands and for ecological change. Fluctuations in surface area, depth and turbidity will be closely monitored in the highly dynamic natural marshes of Doñana. Different methodologies will be developed and used to monitor aquatic vegetation such as the invasive Azolla, and phytoplankton as indicators of eutrophication.

Researchers: Andy J Green, Juan Aguilar-Amat, Javier Bustamante, Carmen Diaz-Paniagua, Jordi Figuerola, Iván Gomez-Mestre, Cristina Ramo, Luis Santamaría