My research fields are:
My 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).
Most of my research efforts in geometric morphometrics have concentrated on landmark dat. 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).
The extra components of variation can be removed by rescaling the configurations to a standard size, shifting them to a standard position, and rotating them to a standard orientation. Moreover, since none of the steps has changed the shape of the configurations, the variation after the procedure is the complete shape variation.
The Ecological View
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 ecologists is to associate character states or different phenotypic values with environmental data (Benitez et al 2014). 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.
In all these cases, morphology represents certain organismal aspects that relate and individual to its environment, hence its importance. Indeed, the association between morphology and ecology could provide useful insights about the expression of the phenotype-environment interaction and the related evolutionary history.
In the same topics, the lab have nice collaboration teams and one important is in the study of Biological Invasions.
Biological Invasions, Geometric Morphometrics in Pest Ecology.
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) (Diabrotica virgifera virgifera LeConte). With more than currently 8 years and 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). The WCR overwinters in the soil only to emerge in spring and commence feeding upon the roots of maize plants damaging key plant physiological processes. In this area lot of works studying the adaptive pattern of wing and body shape correlated to the invasiveness are in process with some articles already published studying the asymmetry, and integration patterns of the wing (Benitez et al 2014 (BJLS), Lemic et al 2014 (ZA), Benitez et al 2014b (ZA)).
The Evolutionary View
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.
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).
Development Stability Measurement: Fluctuating Asymetry
Development stability (DS) is 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, therefore, referred to the intrinsic capacity of an individual to overcome accidents and disturbances during growth and development (Clarke, 1998).
The measuring tool that is most commonly used to estimate DS is Fluctuating Asymmetry (FA) (Van Valen, 1962; Palmer & Strobeck, 1986; Palmer, 1994; Clarke, 1998; Pither & Taylor, 2000). FA is a measure of small random deviations occurring between left and righ side of bilaterally symmetrical traits (Van Valen, 1962). 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.