Our principal effort devoted to study the ecological an evolutionary patterns of morphological diversification in animals, principally insects exploring the way in which morphological variation occurs, and which is the evolutionary origin.
The principal effort of the lab is the combination of the different biological areas that linked morphological adaptation and diversification, using principally one tool called Geometric Morphometrics.
Geometric Morphometrics Tool
The principal and most important analysis of geometric morphometrics is called Procrustes superimposition, where only the shape information is extracted and the other components of variation in size, position and orientation can be removed, while taking care not to alter shape in any step of the procedure (Rohlf & Slice 1990, Dryden & Mardia 1998).
See a Geometric Morphometric Spanish Review from our lab HERE
Most of my research efforts in geometric morphometrics have concentrated on landmark data Morphological landmarks are points that can be located precisely on each specimen under study with a clear correspondence in a one to one manner from specimen to specimen (Klingenberg 2008a, Zelditch et al 2012).
EME LAB RESEARCH AREAS
I - Pattern of Animal adaptation to extreme enviroments
One of the great characteristics of GM is that it allows studying the association between shape and other kinds of data, such as ecological, genetic, biomechanical, or other relevant factors. This is useful because one of the traditional interests of evolutionary ecologists is to associate character states or different phenotypic values with environmental data (Villalobos-Leiva & Benítez et al 2020).
For instance, ecomorphological studies have revealed constraints and selective factors affecting the phenotypic response to certain environments, how morphology influences the ecological distribution (Morphometrics and Biogeography) of a particular phenotype and evolutionary trends such as phylogenetically conserved morphologies.
The Lab currently is working with multiple organism principally invertebrates from the Northern Altiplano (of Chile) and from Antartica, Magallanes, Patagonia principally associated to 2 big grants, a Fondecyt (ending 2021) and as an associate institution in the Millenium Institute BASE (Biodiversity of Antarctic and Sub Antarctic Ecosystem)
A big collaboration with the Faculty of Agriculture, Department for Agricultural Zoology at University of Zagreb (Croatia) with the Colleagues Dr. Renata Bažok and Dr. Darija Lemic, has emphasised the study of the shape adaptation on the biological invasion of the Western corn rootworm (WCR), between other pest of agriculture. More than 20 articles published together this collaboration work on an invasive species accidentally introduced from North America into Europe. WCR is potentially the most serious pest of maize production (Lemic et al 2014).
Currently the Lab is studying the pattern of shape adaptation of multiple invasive species in Chile as well (e.g. Bagrada hilaris), as well as, integrating morphometrics tool to understand the patterns of development stability (DS) defined as the capacity of an organism to produce a phenotype predetermined by an adaptative body design under a set of specific genetic and environmental conditions (Waddington, 1942). This is, thus, referred to the intrinsic capacity of an individual to overcome accidents and disturbances during growth and development (Clarke, 1998). Therefore, our lab is analysing the pesticide effect on the shape variation in multiple organism analysing the Fluctuating asymmetry (FA) is particularly interesting as a result of its potential as a biomonitor of environmental quality in the last years I have devoted my interest in analyse the effect of developmental stability principally how is reflected on the morphology. A review of this area in Spanish you can read in Benitez & Parra 2012 principally from the classical fluctuating asymmetry.
See our last review published in Symmetry, Benítez et al 2020: HERE
II- Invasive pest adaptation (Biological Invasions)
Organism shape evolution
Morphological Evolution, Integrating studies of morphological diversification with phylogenetic history has been crucial for understanding the evolution of organismal shapes. For that reason the lab have been working on the combination of multivariate tools to study the shape evolution, currently, the lab is working on different ongoing projects particularly studying the evolution of morphological traits, principally on Lepidoptera (Butterflies and Moths) with the University of Cambridge and the Bavarian state collection of Zoology.
The Lab is also interested in understand the origins of the morphological evolution, for this reason have been incorporating the use of GM for studies of Morphological Integration and Modularity understanding integration and modularity is essential to comprehend the evolution of shape since the coherence of recognizable parts of most organisms is dependent on their developmental origin, structure and function (Klingenberg 2008, Klingenberg 2010). Integration is the cohesion among traits that results from interactions of the biological processes producing the phenotypic structures under study. Morphological integration and modularity, as well as channelling, novelties and constraints, represent fundamental paths where development would have the main role to explain evolution (evo-devo).
Pattern to adaptation to Migration (Animal Migrations)
Animal migration is an evolutionary mechanism that different animals show against environmental heterogeneity in both space and time. Consequently, animal migration corresponds to a strategy that enables the exploitation of temporary resources related to non-permanent habitats (Chapman et al., 2015; Dingle and Drake, 2007; Talavera and Vila, 2016).
Our Lab is currently is studying migratory strategies which have evolved several times on diverse unrelated species including most major groups such as birds, mammals (terrestrial and aquatic), fish, reptiles, crustaceans and insects, in this last butterflies are specially known by the Monarch and the Vanessa migration, inserted in several program to detect migration by the help of citizen science (Alerstam et al., 2003; Dingle and Drake, 2007).
Currently the lab is working with Vanessa carye a butterfly with a huge distribution from Venezuela to Tierra del Fuego (Chilean and Argentinean Patagonia). using population genetics and genomics combined with Geometric morphometrics, our team is trying to understand their pattern of migration in South America.
Also with our past Doctoral student Dra. Rocio Alvarez we have studied the pattern of migration and shape evolution of the Turtle Chelonia mydas principally from the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, using genomic and morphometrics tools.