Team Luís Camacho

Team: Luís Camacho

Meet Luís who was recently hired as post doctoral researcher in the Araújo Lab at the MNCN-CSIC.

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

At the core, I am a naturalist. I have used knowledge on biodiversity and natural history to address a variety of questions in ecology and biogeography—primarily with extensive work in the field. My research involves a variety of scales—species, communities, and whole ecosystems—and has focused primarily on invertebrates. The tropical Andes is my home and focus of research to provide a macroecological context to several aspects of my work.

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

Much of my work has focused on the ecology and biogeography of biotic interactions. I have studied the mechanisms shaping macroecological gradients in the strength of predation and mutualism, as well as their consequences in insect communities—treehoppers (Hemiptera, Membracidae) in particular. I have also provided, what is to my knowledge, the first evidence of the deleterious effects of light pollution on insect populations at a landscape scale. Other projects have involved habitat use ecology, insect biomechanics, and macroecological patterns in habitat structural complexity. I have had the opportunity and responsibility of having much independence in my research throughout my career. For the most part, I have been the leader of my research from my Bachelor’s thesis onward. I can confidently say my research has been truly my own—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

What are your primary research interests, and how did you become interested in these areas?

I was born and raised in the Andes of Ecuador, where I was constantly overwhelmed by its landscape and biodiversity. The panoply of ecosystems across elevations—from lowland rainforests to montane cloud forests to snowy highlands—and its endless diversity of life forms inspired me to question why species look, behave, and occur where they do. I am thus interested in how organisms function and interact with each other, and how this determines where they occur.

What will you be working on in our research group, and what are your goals for this project?

My research in Miguel’s lab involves understanding the energetic underpinnings shaping biodiversity. I am interested in applying principles of energetics and metabolism to understand the transformation of energy and matter in the environment into biomass, and its subsequent organization into individuals and species. We are interested in addressing how this energetic setting shapes the trophic structure of communities, and ultimately the energetic structure of ecosystems.

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

Research in the tropical Andes has given me first-hand experience of life working in a setting that is comparable to the entire latitudinal gradient (i.e. from lowland rainforests to permanent glaciers). Research from a natural history lens trained in the field helps understanding species and communities from a comprehensive functional perspective (e.g. diets, free space, reproduction, interactions). This macroecological context and naturalistic worldview allows me to understand and contribute to research in the lab occurring in a variety of ecological contexts worldwide. Moreover, my career has given me the data-wrangling and statistical tools to contribute to an array of analysis challenges that may present in the lab.

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

An interesting challenge is addressing questions relating to the deepest fundamentals of life: energy and information. I plan to overcome this with the tools of science: reading, deep thought, and collaboration. The latter poses the additional challenge of working within the context of a team of researchers with diverse technical, research, and worldview backgrounds. I plan to overcome this with much dialogue and humility, and—of course—more reading and deep thought.

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

From a technical aspect, I hope to enhance my spatial analysis skills. Perhaps complement them by learning techniques on species distribution modelling. From a broader professional aspect, I want to improve my collaboration skills within and outside the lab. Particularly, I hope to improve my networking skills that may foster collaboration enterprises in the ever-more international and interdisciplinary setting of modern science.

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

My aim is to gather the necessary experience to become an independent researcher. In the coming years, I intend to mature as a researcher by working as a postdoc. Given time, I look forward—for example—to being part of the Spanish Ramon y Cajal grantees, which will help my path to be an independent researcher in Spain. That would be nice. I am open to participating in applied conservation research. I am interested in participating more in scientific communication to the general public.

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

So far, my career has developed in the South and North American contexts. I am now excited to enrich my career in the European setting and expand my professional worldview from a different biodiversity setting, societal views, and academic culture. With regards to specific conferences, journals, or opportunities that I am interested in, the sky is the limit.

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

In my view, a fundamental gap in our current understanding of ecology lays in its taxonomic bias. Much of our knowledge on the matter is based on studying vertebrates, primarily birds and mammals. However, the elephant in the room—or perhaps I should say the insect in the room—is that vertebrates constitute only 5% of species and 1% of biomass of Earth’s biota. An important challenge remains to further invertebrate research to complement our current vertebrate-based knowledge on the inner workings of life. This is very much pertinent to fundamental ecological understanding as well as applications to biodiversity conservation.

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

In my experience, it is by doing research. Understanding the relevant context and implications of a study is the best way to get involved deeply with the latest developments on the matter. At the same time, it is also the best way to keep connected with the classics that have laid the fundamentals upon current knowledge has been developed.

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

I cannot negate that many papers have deeply impacted my scientific thinking. Nevertheless, my ultimate recommendation in my field is to go to the field! Go to nature and see biology unfolding in real time. Get a first-hand glance of what an interaction is and what biodiversity looks like.

Outside of research, what are your hobbies or interests?

I am a martial artist. I have devoted over 20 years to the study of Japanese swordsmanship, particularly iaido and kenjutsu in the old tradition of Katayama Hoki ryu. I am also a collector and tinker of radio-controlled (RC) cars.

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

By setting my priorities right and being conscious of them. My family is the top priority, and it is my duty to honor that place. I aim to limit work to no more than 9 hours a day with little exceptions. More than that, not only steals time from my loved ones, but leaves them with the leftovers of my over-worked self. Devoting time to training and eating well is important. It improves my health and ability to be a better version of myself in the lab and the house. Not having social media is a big win for all involved.

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

I hope to get involved in the communication initiatives of the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales. Biodiversity is a key component of how humans experience and value nature. I think ecologists play a key role in the discovering and telling of narratives that may help build relational values with nature, a key missing factor in our collective consciousness to preserve it.