Team: Salvador Herrando Pérez

Meet Salvador who was recently hired as Araújo Lab Manager at the MNCN-CSIC.

Can you share a bit about your academic and research background?

I owe my interest in biodiversity to my parents. As I child, I fondly remember fishing and hunting with my dad, and watching wildlife documentaries on telly, admiring Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente and Jacques Cousteau. I hold a BSc in Biology (Spain), an MPhil in Marine Biology (UK), and a PhD in Population Ecology (Australia). Quite frankly, I have always worked in the research areas I managed to find funding for at a given point in time and/or allowing me to live in a particular country in response to family-related circumstances. Life is complex and one is not always prepared to create the best path possible for a research career.

What specific research projects have you been involved with in the past, and what role did you play?

Between the end of my BSc and the beginning of my PhD I did freelance research on cave and marine animals in England and Spain and statistical lecturing in Colombia, Mexico and Peru. With my PhD, I started to look into global patterns of population dynamics in relation to species’ life histories and climate change. After my PhD, always as a postdoc, I studied lizard thermal traits in the Iberian Peninsula and Late-Quaternary megafauna extinctions globally.

What are your primary research interests?

I have become a generalist ecologist. This essentially means that I know a little about many things, with statistical analysis being transversal to all research projects I have undertaken. I am interested in curating data that can be used by other researchers to address questions in global ecology (abundance data of modern species) and palaeoecology (fossil ages of extinct species). I love programming, developing tools to analyze data.

What will you be working on in our research group?

For the first time in my career, I will be acting as a lab manager trying to make the work of group members easier and well organized. In parallel, I will do research assessing the diversity of species and habitats in Spain and how they should be preserved in protected areas in response to climate change by 2030.

How does your current research align with the overall objectives of our research group?

Studying global changes and biodiversity through statistical methods are common subjects to what the group does and what I have been doing. My eclectic understanding of ecology sits well with a research group working on an array of taxa and ecosystems worldwide. The group has the strategic objective of magnifying its outreach products, which aligns with my experience in popular science.

Are there any particular challenges you anticipate facing in your current research? How do you plan to address them?

The main challenge is bound to be the interaction with professionals working in different sectors, from the scientists of the research group, through the administrative staff of the National Museum of Natural Sciences up to the decision-making technicians in the Spanish Ministry for Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge. This will require constant tuning and adaptation of communication to each group of people.

What skills or knowledge are you hoping to develop during your time in this research group?

I hope to learn more about metrics to classify the conservation status of species and habitats, and to document historical changes in Spanish protected areas. I should also develop skills to manage a research team in a way that is efficient in the doing as well as beneficial to all the members of the team.

Where do you see your research taking you in the next five years?

Honestly, I have absolutely no clue. I am flexible and adaptable. I will work on what I find funding for and I am confident I can make a contribution towards. However, having done predominantly pure research in previous projects, I would like to think that my research portfolio increasingly gains a predominant applied scope. I want to see that nature and society benefit from my work in some measurable way.

Are there any particular conferences, journals, or professional networks you are keen to engage with through your research here?

Any professional activity and network that improves my understanding of the species and habitats living in protected areas is welcome. I have spent more research time abroad than in my own country (Spain), so the idea that I get to know more about the wildlife thriving where I have been born is both exciting and self-realizing.

What do you think are the most pressing questions or challenges in your research field today?

Focusing on my latest investigations, ecophysiology and palaeoecology, there are two striking biases in our knowledge about the Earth that we need to address. One is that biodiversity (hence the traits of species that we ignore exist) remains undersampled, we know more forms of life in areas of the planet concentrating research powerhouses, that is, terrestrial ecosystems in the temperate zone of Western countries. In comparison, marine, tropical and polar ecosystems have been poorly surveyed. Combined genomic and taxonomical efforts should attain a full catalogue of eukaryote diversity and what they do worldwide this century. The other is that the chronologies of late-Quaternary vertebrates (what species existed and why they disappeared) are potentially inaccurate, we must develop better and unexpensive dating protocols for fossil skeletal materials. Much as humans have modified the planet since the conception of agriculture, modern ecosystems are a legacy of the environmental changes occurring immediately before and after the Last Glacial Maximum. We cannot understand the present without accurately timing past ecosystem shifts.

How do you stay updated with the latest developments and research in your area of interest?

Research outputs grow exponentially every year, and it is impossible to detect, let alone read, everything that is published and relevant to each discipline. The best way I find of staying updated is by writing scientific articles (always having at least one in the pipeline) as that requires searching for the latest papers in a target field and (as importantly) how the cutting-edge results of new publications relate to hypotheses and theories conceived by old literature. For instance, I am now completing a database of radiocarbon ages of Holarctic mammal fossils spanning the last 50,000 years. 2024 is the last of this six-year effort and, throughout, I have kept active alerts in Scopus and ScienceDirect, filtering for me on a weekly basis, every single paper published in the mainstream literature about those chronologies. On the hand, I write bimonthly popular-science articles in the Spanish magazine Quercus. This regular activity prompts me to read literature away of my areas of work and is an effective way of “thinking outside the box”, cross-relating research disciplines, taxa and ecosystems.

Can you recommend any groundbreaking or influential papers/books in your field that you think everyone should read?

Merchants of doubt by Naomi Oreskes. Since the Industrial Revolution, our society has been driven by economic powers interested in short-term profits. Today’s denial of anthropogenic climate change by those powers emulates the same rationale of denial of the life-threatening effects of pesticides and smoking over the 20th Century. First the science is negated, then the magnitude of the problem is negated and, by the time the problem is socially validated costing thousands of lives, no one is held responsible for inaction.

Outside of research, what are your hobbies or interests?

I am a licenced soccer coach, the practice of which isolates my mind from work and comes with the responsibility of mentoring young people on self-discipline and collective well-being: every player matters but the team matters as much. Soccer implies a player passing a ball to another player very much like a person passes a word or a feeling to another person. If the pass is good, the team plays well. In the past, I also did story-telling performance and wrote short tales, I might return to fiction writing one day but… perhaps when I retire.

How do you balance your research commitments with your personal life?

Achieving such a balance is not something I strive for – this is a lost battle and one I try not to be distracted by. Research is addictive by nature as there is always something else to read, learn, analyze or write about. I simply try to be 100% focused on research, hobbies or family whenever I happen to be in any of those three compartments of my life.

Are there any non-research activities or groups within our institution or community that you’re interested in joining?

Given that my current job is bound to be dominated by office, computer and paper work, I would be thrilled to join outdoor activities involving direct contact with nature but with a purpose, e.g., collecting data or finding a species.