Research interests

Having a beer after a long cycling day across the forests
of the Basque Country. Picture by Juan José Palenzuela
I teach Zoology and Evolutionary Biology in the Biology Degree of the University of Granada (Spain). My research lies within the fields of evolutionary ecology and behavioral ecology, in particular in the topics of avian reproductive strategies, avian brood parasitism, mating systems and sexual selection, the ecology and evolution of life histories in animals and the use of molecular markers in ecology.

Birds show a wide range of reproductive strategies. Brood parasitism is one of the most interesting from an evolutionary perspective. Brood parasites lay their eggs in the nests of other species (hosts) that take care of the parasitic eggs and young. It's a fantastic system for studying adaptations and counteradaptations in the framework of coevolutionary theory. For example, by looking at how natural selection favours the ability of discriminating foreign eggs in hosts as a consequence of the profound effect that parasitism has in their breeding success. I am interested in understanding how parasites may affect different aspects of host life histories, working in the system made up by great spotted cuckoos (Clamator glandarius) and magpies (Pica pica) in Granada. I'm also interested in how natural and sexual selection have given form to avian mating systems, and I have collaborated with other people determining mating patterns and reproductive success in different species using molecular markers. I have done parentage analyses in magpies, great spotted cuckoos, hoopoes or flycatchers among other species.

Magpies (Pica pica). Picture by Mercedes Molina
Molecular ecology is about using molecular markers to tackle different questions of interest in ecology and evolution, such as determining breeding success or parentage analyses as mentioned above, or characterizing levels of genetic diversity, inbreeding, or reconstructing the demographic history of populations, among many other things. I mainly use microsatellites for this, and I have developed PCR primers for amplyfing microsatellites in magpies, g.s. cuckoos and the butterfly Parnassius apollo. I have used microsatellites for paternity and population genetics studies.

Parnassius apollo
Last instar caterpillar of Parnassius apollo
I am also interested in understanding how natural selection acts on the trade-offs between life history traits, how different patterns of investment in reproduction or growth are selected, and how this changes along the life of individuals and depending on the ecological circumstances.
I am working in these topics using as model species magpies and apollo butterflies.
Magpies may live many years, and I aim to understand how their life history traits change (if they do) along their lifes.
The apollo butterfly is an specialist dwelling in the high mountain habitats in southern Spain mountain ranges such as Sierra Nevada. As a model species is interesting for having two different life stages, larvae and adult, with a relatively short life, and different ecological requirements. Butterflies in the high mountains are also of interest because they may be useful to anticipate the effects of climate change on the species.