Ecology and Evolution

Ecology is the study of the interactions between organisms at different biological levels (individuals, populations, communities, ecosystems, biosphere) and their biophysical environment . These interactions, which are affected by the genetic composition of the organism, are largely responsible for individual survival and reproductive success. At the ecological level, survival and reproduction are key components in the analyses of population growth trends (growth, stability or extinction). The addition of processes that generate variation in survival and reproduction can lead to long-term biological changes in a population, generating evolutionary patterns.

Evolution is the unifying theory in biology and can explain all the patterns of life. It is the process of change in the biological properties of a population across individual generations. From a population genetics perspective, five important processes are responsible for biological evolution: genetic drift, mutation, natural selection, gene flow and recombination. Many non-genetic processes (e.g., phenotypic plasticity, non-genetic inheritance) have also been proposed to affect evolution in different ways. Because of the complexity of life, many of these processes cannot be empirically analyzed in isolation without the background effect of other processes. However, their effects can be accurately described from a theoretical perspective, with mathematical models, and the mathematical predictions can be subsequently tested against empirical observations.

Mathematical biology allows us to understand specific processes and address very specific questions without the noise caused by background processes. Mathematical models have the fundamental advantage of eliminating basically all processes that are not of interest for the question being addressed. However, this advantage comes with a very important risk: the mathematical model might simply be wrong or not represent the system in a realistic way. As it was once said by the statistician George Box, all models are wrong but some are useful (Box, 1979).

I use evolutionary dynamics models (evolutionary game theory and invasion analyses) and simulations to understand the processes responsible for genetic, phenotypic and cultural evolution. Additionally, I use mathematical models to explore the effects of environmental stressors (e.g., global warming, infectious diseases, pollutants) on population dynamics at the ecological scale.

Below you can find the topics I have been slowing working on and I hope that my work will eventually provide new insights into those topics. If you are interested in one of them or want to start a collaboration on a new project, please send me a message. Discussions about new topics/projects are always welcome!