Colombia is a megabiodiverse country, harboring two biodiversity hotspots: The Tropical Andes, and the Chocó biogeographic region along the Pacific coast. In my research, I aim to integrate evolutionary and ecological approaches to understand the origin of this biodiversity for conservation, ecological restoration and the sustainable use of biological resources.
In particular, my research applies molecular genetic approaches to understand ecological community composition and dynamics. In addition to conservation genetics and phylogeography, my projects also include the generation of DNA Barcode of Life data, and more recently the application of Next Generation Sequencing approaches for wide-scale meta-barcoding surveys.
I have 15 experience of work in the neo-tropics and have lived for the past 10 years in Cali, Colombia.
Current research areas
Diversity, ecology and sustainable use of native Vanilla species in Colombia.
This research area, initiated in 2006, aims to understand the diversity and ecology of Vanilla species native to Colombia, in order to promote the conservation and sustainable use of these valuable genetic resources.
The natural vanilla flavoring is obtained from cured fruits of the species Vanilla planifolia and hybrid derivatives. This species is a member of the aromatic clade of the genus, with a natural distribution in the neo-tropics. Despite Colombia´s central position in this distribution, the native species in the country have been little studied.
Specific projects include:
Mycorrhizal associations in orchids with ornamental value: biotechnology resources for the production and conservation of orchids of commercial interest. Collaboration with Dr Ana Teresa Mosquera-Espinosa, Universidad Pedagógica y Tecnológica de Colombia.
Colombia has an extraordinary diversity of orchid species. The over 4000 species described include many taxa of high commercial interest, such as the Cattleyas, as well as many other species of interest to specialist collectors. Unfortunately, illegal collecting from the wild has put pressure on many of the natural populations of these species. Equally, many populations are under threat from habitat degradation.
In this research line, we aim to further understand the orchid mycorrhizal interactions of focal species, and to develop biotechnological procedures for their ex-situ propagation in order to promote population restoration of these species.
Ecological and Evolutionary patterns between orchids and pollinators in the Amazon región of Putuymayo, and the pacific lowland región of Nariño, Southern Colombia. Collaboration with Dr JT. Otero, Universidad Nacional de Colombia.
In this collaborative Colciencias-funded project, I am coordinating the application of molecular approaches in a comparative study of phylogeography and population genetics of the orchid and Euglossine pollinator communities on the Eastern and Western lower slopes of the Andes in Southern Colombia.
Landscape Genetics in tropical Andean coffee-growing regions: hunting ants as indicators of habitat fragmentation & matrix quality. Collaboration with Dr Inge Armbrecht, Universidad del Valle, Cali, Colombia.
Within the Colombian Andean region more than 70% of the original montane forests have undergone anthropological conversion. In the coffee-growing region in the center of the country, the landscape consists of a complex mosaic of forest fragments and matrix patches of various agricultural activities. The guild of hunting ants has proved to be a valuable asset for determination and monitoring of habit quality and connectivity. This project aims to extend prior work in this guild by understanding the population genetic dynamics between and within forest and matrix fragments in three species of hunting ant with differing ecological preferences. This project has received funding from the Fundación para la Promoción de la Investigación y la Tecnología, Banco de la Republica, Colombia, and from Colciencias.