Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, Madrid, Spain
Biología y Geología, Física y Química Inorgánica
Twitter - @MBlanco_Sanchez
My research is focused on the evolutionary ecology of gypsophiles, or in other words, plants restricted to gypsum soils. These species, many of them endemisms, live under arid and semiarid conditions and have remarkable adaptations to cope with the restrictive conditions of gypsum ecosystems. However, abiotic conditions will become harsher in the future due to climate change, so understanding how these species will respond to climate change is key to predict their persistence. Although migration to less restrictive habitats is one of the most effective responses to cope with climate change, gypsum habitats show both natural and anthropic highly fragmented distributions that may make migration difficult. As reported in a recent paper published in AJB, we found a higher genetic structure in chloroplast markers (maternally inherited) than in nuclear markers (biparentally inherited), indicating that gene flow via seeds is much lower than gene flow via pollen, and confirming previously proposed hypotheses: gypsophiles usually lack effective dispersal mechanisms via seeds, and migration may be limited. My thesis also assesses the importance of in situ evolutionary processes (i.e., adaptation by natural selection and adaptive phenotypic plasticity) in the responses of these species in a climate change context. A recent phenotypic selection study in natural conditions revealed the adaptive value of an acquisitive strategy to escape the most limiting climatic conditions of mid-late summer, and these results were strikingly consistent across species, environmentally contrasting slopes, and climatically contrasting years. In other words, individuals with early phenologies, lower water use efficiency, higher specific leaf area, and lower leaf dry matter content recurrently showed higher reproductive fitness. Finally, our last piece of research showed contrasting quantitative genetic variation across species, but similar plasticity patterns and genetic variation for plasticity, suggesting that potential adaptive responses to climate change will likely differ between co-occurring species.
How Mario got interested in the botanical sciences:
Since I was a kid, I have always loved spending time in nature. My grandparents had a little house in the countryside near Madrid, where my whole family usually spent the summer together. I have unforgettable memories of playing with my cousins, picking up plants and flowers, foraging mushrooms, and helping my grandma with all the tasks in the garden. Because of these experiences, I became interested in nature and plants from a very young age. Later, I started my bachelor's degree in Biology at the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, and I realized how fascinating plant ecology is due to the inspiring lectures received from many of my professors. I enjoyed my studies so much that, after graduating, I did my master’s degree in ecology and conservation to continue my career in science. During my master's, I started to collaborate with one of my current Ph.D. supervisors, and her expertise and enthusiasm for evolutionary ecology really hooked me. Starting my Ph.D. in her group was one of the best decisions of my entire life, and I feel very lucky to be a part of a team that helps and supports me with everything I need! My Ph.D. dissertation is near, but my passion for botany, and in a broader sense, nature, is more intense than ever.
Mario's advice for those just starting their botanical journey:
My advice to young botanists is to keep pursuing their dreams by working hard. The world needs people that truly love what they do, and botany is more needed than ever!
Mario's other passions:
There are a lot of things that I love to do outside of botany and science, especially things related to music, food, and cooking. I have played guitar and bass for more than 15 years and music is one of my greatest passions. Of course, I love playing live, but also listening to all kinds of different music genres and going to concerts and jam sessions. Furthermore, I would say that I am a foodie. I enjoy cooking at home for my friends and family, discovering new restaurants, tasting different wines, coffees, and teas, experimenting with new spices and ingredients from exotic places, etc. Indeed, I have a huge collection of cookbooks and other books related to gastronomy!
In my opinion, both music and food have the power to connect people and make them happy. They are catalysts with the power to join cultures and make them inseparable. To me, this is the true sense of life: happy people spending time together.
Published Articles in BSA Journals:
Phylogeography of a gypsum endemic plant across its entire distribution range in the western Mediterranean. American Journal of Botany 108(3): 443– 460. 2021
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