PhD - Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (2012).
My research aims at improving our understanding of the dynamics and functioning of forest ecosystems, focusing on the study of:
Forest dynamics to climate change. I am especially interested in the responses of trailing-edge populations.
Biogeography and variation of plant functional traits and their role determining community dynamics and function.
Land-use changes (e.g. from agriculture to forest) and forest management and their implications for population responses and ecosystem functioning and services.
Plant functional traits and ecophysiology
Forest management and conservation
Improving our predictive understanding of trailing-edge population decline in response to climate change
Funded by: EU − Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship (IF-EF; H2020-MSCA-2014; Project No 656300) and the Anniversary Fellowship Programme of the University of Stirling.
Climate change-type drought is disrupting population performance and the distribution of tree species across the globe. Biogeographical theory suggests that rising global temperatures should drive species to move poleward and upward in elevation as they track the climates to which they are adapted. Consequently, one fundamental climate change prediction is that population decline and regional loss of tree species should occur in the most drought prone areas of their ranges (i.e. the trailing range-edge). This prediction assumes that trailing-edge populations are marginal with higher risk of extinction than those populations at the species' continuous range because they occur at reduced population sizes along less favorable habitats for the species. This assumption is supported by a broad range of studies in the literature that document altered tree growth and mortality in response to increased drought conditions. However, evidence of trailing-edge populations persisting in the most marginal and drought-prone habitats is increasingly accumulating. For example, relict (or rear-edge) populations are one of the most impressive cases of population persistence they persist geographically isolated in marginal climates significantly hotter and dryer than that tolerated by the species. The disparity of documented responses at species trailing range-edges is potentially a result of complex ecological and evolutionary factors that determine population dynamics, and points out the need for a proper understanding and assessment of marginality and the identification of the key mechanisms implied in population decline.
In this project we aim to propose a rationale for research design and analysis at species' trailing range-edges, and we then aim to demonstrate how the application of this rationale in a simple methodological framework improves our understanding of marginality and trailing-edge population decline. In order to put into practise the framework we have established our study system at the trailing range-edge of the European beech tree (Fagus sylvatica L.), a species with a high ecological importance yet highly drought sensitive. The species occurs along the transition between the Mediterranean and temperate bioclimates, where beech populations are distributed across a fragmented landscape and along highly heterogeneous ecological conditions. In this region, some relict beech populations persist geographically isolated in marginal habitats out of the species' physiological tolerances. This project represents a significant advance in population ecology and biogeography, while the information gained will be relevant to improve our ability to understand the impacts of climate change at the trailing-edge of species distributions and to predict their consequences, from regional extinctions and trophic cascades to carbon and water dynamics.
Ruiz-Benito P, Ratcliffe S, Zavala MA, Martínez‐Vilalta J, Vilà-Cabrera A, Lloret F, Madrigal‐González J, Wirth C, Greenwood S, Kändler G, Lehtonen A, Kattge J, Dahlgren J & Jump AS (2017) Climate- and successional-related changes in functional composition of European forests are strongly driven by tree mortality. Global Change Biology, 23 (10), pp. 4162-4176. https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.13728.
Vilà-Cabrera A, Galiano L & Martinez-Vilalta J (2015) Vulnerabilidad de los bosques ibéricos de pino albar ante el cambio climático. In: Herrero A, Zavala MA (ed.). Los bosques y la biodiversidad frente al cambio climático: Impactos, Vulnerabilidad y Adaptación en España, Madrid, Spain: Ministerio de Agricultura, Alimentación y Medio Ambiente, pp. 283-293.
Martinez-Vilalta J, Aguade D, Banque M, Barba J, Yuste JC, Galiano L, Garcia N, Gomez M, Heres A, Lopez BC, Lloret F, Poyatos R, Retana J, Sus O, Vayreda J & Vilà-Cabrera A (2012) Ecosistemas, 21 (3), pp. 15-21.