My short bio
During my Ph.D. studies, the focus of my research changed from tissue and cell marker analyses to the molecular level, enabling the study of a population of earthworms living in what I like to describe as a volcanic furnace of evolution, a geothermal field in Sao Miguel Island (Azores, Portugal). In order to increase the expertise, I initiated collaboration with Prof. John Morgan and Prof. Peter Kille at Cardiff University and together we wrote a research proposal that was graded as Excellent and successfully funded by the Portuguese Science Foundation (€120,000; Grant PTDC/AAC-AMB/115713/2009). With these funds, I was able to characterise genetically a population of earthworms living inside the geothermal field including among others the identification of various loci under positive selection which likely reflects the worm’s adaptation to the extreme volcanic environmental conditions.
Current Research Themes
Metazoan Life and Extreme Environments
I assisted Prof. Morgan and Prof. Peter Kille in the structuring of a grant application to NERC in order to extend my Ph.D. studies. The project entitled “Stress in a hot place” was seen as an attractive project and was successfully funded (NE/I026022/1). At the present moment, I am working a Marie Curie fellow research in Embrapa-Forestry (Curitiba, Brazil) & Cardiff University (UK) under a collaboration project funded by the European Union.
Biodiversity Footprints in Anthropic Ecosystems
In this stage I am interested in the study of soil biodiversity signatures associated with ecosystems which were historically highly manipulated by humans, the denominated anthropic ecosystems, in particular, the Amazonian Dark Earths (ADEs: please see our network web page http://tpinet.org). In this project, I am working with Prof. George Brown at EMBRAPA-Forestry, Brazil. Prof Brown crucially acted as a conduit to the established network of interdisciplinary researchers interested in the human-environment dimension which range from anthropologists, archaeologists, geochemists, radiocarbon dating laboratories and ecologists. This group has been providing an enormously rich knowledge base in relation to ADEs, facilitating access to and sampling at the locations and of the characterization of several discrete Amerindian settlements. Furthermore, with the advent of next generation technologies (NGS), I had the opportunity to participate in the assembly of several invertebrate genomes, among which P. corethurus, one of the earthworms living in the neotropical South American rainforests. Using different sequencing strategies and coupling gene expression data, most of the times by writing my own software tools, I was able to understand better the complex genome of such invasive earthworm.
“A Worm’s Trail: Implementing a collaborative network for the study of Historical and Recent Land Use and Soil Management in Neotropical Rainforests” (Grant NE/M017656/1)
The main objective of the project is to establish a long-term collaborative network between Cardiff University and EMBRAPA in order to gain knowledge about the functioning and potential role of soil ecosystem engineers, organic matter and nutrients to Amazon Dark Earth (ADE) formation; this novel approach will aid in understanding the origin and sustainable management of these soils as well as other highly weathered acidic soils under humid tropical conditions.
Network web page:
Biodiversity signatures in Amazonia
Tracking Historical and Recent Human Settlement, Land use & Migration in Neotropical Rainforests using Ecosystem Engineers” (Grant NE/M017656/1)
The anthropologic and archaeological study of pre-Columbian people of the Amazon Basin has revealed sophisticated ecosystem modifications Notwithstanding the absence of historical written records, the biological evidence of these practices remains in the remarkable soils referred to as Amazonian ‘dark earths’ (ADEs), or “Terra Preta do Indio”, produced by these ancient civilisations to promote highly enriched environment. With increasing global demand for food, energy and carbon, it is crucial to understand and learn from past land management systems. We can also learn from the influence of these historical practices on the associated biodiversity in order to appropriately manage the current and plan the future land uses. This understanding is essential for both economic and environmental sustainability, and to provide for the needs and aspirations of current and future generations, while simultaneously conserving the ecological fidelity of the resource base on which they depend. This is particularly important with respect to soils and their intrinsic and diverse living organisms, because they sustain plant production (thus, they are at the base of the human food production chain), and have important consequences for water quality and availability. Furthermore, soils are a vast storehouse for biodiversity including many invertebrate species that contribute a number of essential ecosystem services, although most of these species remain mostly unknown, unseen and disregarded. By promoting the interdisciplinary connection between anthropology/archaeology, soil ecology and genomics, we will be able propose to integrate and harness the research expertise of internationally renowned scientists to investigate both the relationship of ADEs to the associated extant biodiversity, reveal details of past and current anthropogenic impact on the natural surroundings, as well as new clues regarding settlement dynamics over a large part of Brazil. Therefore, this project’s intention is to contribute to the knowledge of soil animal biodiversity and its relationship with soil fertility and land use changes in a mega-diverse biome (Amazonia). Our objectives will be accomplished by:
1. Assessing the current soil biodiversity assemblages to gain knowledge about the functioning and potential role of soil ecosystem engineers, organic matter and nutrients to the formation of these extremely fertile soils; this novel approach will aid in understanding the origin and sustainable management of ADEs as well as highly weathered and acid soils under humid tropical conditions.
2. Using DNA barcoding to describe the diversity of the ecosystem engineer community associated with the past and recent settlements throughout the Amazonian Basin.
3. Using genomics of a peregrine species closely related with human landscape domestication to mirror the human exchanges and flow among the Neotropical rainforest associated with the migration of Amazonian Indians.
Metazoans Living on a Volcanic Edge
“Stress in a hot place: Characterising the ecogenomics of a pantropical sentinel inhabiting multi-stressor volcanic soils” (Grant NE/I026022/1)
“Understanding of how any metazoan organism tolerates an extreme environment comprised of multiple stressors may help to predict the impacts of current and future multifaceted global change on biodiversity and ecological function. Active volcanic soils represent extreme environments with unique features: elevated metal-ion concentrations, constant degassing over a wide area, and high temperature. Elevated soil temperature, as well as low O2, high CO2, and acidified soil are inhospitable challenges to the resident biota. The present proposal will derive a mechanistic understanding of the adaptation of an ecologically-relevant, ecosytem engineering, soil-dwelling invasive earthworm species (Amynthas gracilis) to cocktails of physico-chemical stressors of natural origin. Furthermore, the observations on this metazoan life-form with extremophile traits will have applications in the bioeconomy (biotechnology, agriculture and vermicomposting), medicine (models for anoxia & hypercapnia), and environmental management (ecotoxicology, risk assessment, land reclamation).”
Grants and Prizes
2015: Marie Curie Global Fellowship H2020-MSCA-IF-2014 Grant Number 660378 (209,279£)
2015: Co-I in NERC-IOF Grant NE/M017656/1 entitled “Hook a Worm to Catch a Man: Tracking Historical and Recent Human Settlement, Land use & Migration in Neotropical Rainforests using Ecosystem Engineers” (269,691£)
2015: Co-I in NERC-DIR Grant NE/M017656/1 entitled “A Worm’s Trail: Implementing a collaborative network for the study of Historical and Recent Land Use and Soil Management in Neotropical Rainforests” (37,718£)
2012: 4rd Place for the best Business Idea with the project “GEOMARTEC – The use of renewable energies in shrimp aquaculture” at the Concurso Regional de Empreendedorismo e ao Prémio Millenium BCP/CE UAC Melhor Ideia de Negócio.
2011: Team Member of a Standard NERC Grant NE/I026022/1 entitled “Stress in a hot place: Characterising the ecogenomics of a pantropical sentinel inhabiting multi-stressor volcanic soils” (380,000£)
2011: Grant PTDC/AAC-AMB/115713/2009 funded by Portuguese Science Foundation: Research Project entitled “An Azorean furnace of evolution: honing molecular-genetic tools for phylogeography and ecotoxicogenomics in a pantropical sentinel inhabiting multi-stressor volcanic soil” (120,000€).
2011-2012: Mexican Government Scholarship for advanced postgraduate studies to be conducted at Centro de Investigacion y Estudios Avanzados (CINVESTAV).
2010: Grant M3.2.4/I/003A/2010 funded by the Regional Government of Azores, for the organization of the Scientific Meeting “A volcanic furnace of Evolution” (4,740€).
2008-2012: PhD Scholarship Entitled M3.1.2/F/029/2007 “The Effects of the extreme environment of volcanic origin in organisms using earthworms as models”.
2008: Best Poster Award received during the “Fourth International Conference on Metals and Genetics. Paris (France).
2005-2006: 2005-2006: M.Sc. Scholarship funded by the European Social Fund.
During my period associated with Cardiff University I was also able to establish strong collaborative links that have led to the development of new research proposals and innovative science ideas, in particular, the collaboration with Dr. Dave Spurgeon (Centre for Ecology & Hydrology), Prof. Mark Hodson (York University), but also within my own School with Profs Mike Bruford, Kille, Weightman and Dr. Pablo Orozco-terWengel. Old overseas collaboration links were also refreshed, in particular with Prof. Rafael Montiel (LANGEBIO, Mexico), together we were able to assemble and describe the genome of an important entomopathogenic nematode. Also sourced in a strong collaboration with my Mexican partners, in particular with Dr. Barois (INECOL, Mexico), I was able to describe the associated microbiomes of the earthworms living in the geothermal field. I am also starting to collaborate with Prof. Barbara Plytycz (Jagiellonian University, Krakow, Poland) and Prof. Laszlo Molnar (University of Pecs, Hungary) in a fascinating subject concerning the evolution of the neural-immune axis as exemplified by cerebral and caudal regeneration in earthworms.