Team Nico Merino

Team: Nico Merino


Meet Nico who recently started his PhD studies within Araújo Lab at the MNCN-CSIC. His thesis is jointly supervised with Nuria Galiana.

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

Before joining this research group, my research background mostly focused on life history theory, the intersection between ecology and evolution, and the field of energetics. I primarily engaged in experimental and field research, with freshwater fish as my go-to model species, particularly working with Spanish toothcarp, guppies, and zebrafish.

What specific research projects have you been involved with in the past, and what role did you play? What are your primary research interests, and how did you become interested in these areas?

Thanks to my passion for Evolutionary Ecology during college, I decided to initiate my research into the underlying mechanisms driving classical life history theory processes. I developed my first project on the mechanisms of energy allocation and its correlation with metabolic rate, focusing on the study of the Spanish toothcarp. Simultaneously, I worked for the University of Barcelona and the Zoo of Barcelona in the Salvem el Fartet foundation, a project dedicated to the conservation of the Spanish toothcarp. Subsequently, I completed a Master’s degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland. There I joined the Zebrafish Group and I had the opportunity to delve into my clearest interests at that point: energetics. I focused on experimentally studying the plasticity of energy allocation in size-selected fish under restrictive feeding conditions while linking those differences to the current metabolic theory of ecology. Right before joining the Araújo lab, I spent 10 months working as a research technician in the Guppy Project, located in Trinidad & Tobago. The Guppy Project is an international research initiative that studies the ecological and evolutionary consequences of Trinidadian guppy evolution in nature.

What will you be working on in our research group, and what are your goals for this project? Are there any particular challenges you anticipate facing in your current research? How do you plan to address them?

My current research is very different to anything I have done in the past, and that really excites me. I am bridging theoretical ecology with a real-world application by using the most updated databases and incorporating the fundamental principles that govern community assemblages at the macroecological level. To do so, I model ecologically plausible communities and evaluate how their structure evolves under diverse environmental scenarios. When completed, this will allow us to provide a process-based framework able to predict future changes in ecological communities caused by climate change. Additionally, we plan to link these results with an ecosystem functioning approach, allowing us to further amplify the practicality of our framework. It is not a small task that lies ahead of me, and, of course, there are many challenges to overcome. I hope to solve them by benefiting from the multidisciplinary support this lab offers me.

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

My research clearly aligns with the main focus of this research group, which revolves around understanding the causes behind the past, current, and future distribution of species. The value my research brings to this monumental task lies in its mechanistic orientation.

What skills or knowledge are you hoping to develop during your time in this research group? Where do you see your research taking you in the next five years? Are there any particular conferences, journals, or professional networks you are keen to engage with through your research here?

I am extremely excited to be part of this research group since I know it will greatly contribute to the development of my theoretical expertise. Also, I haven’t worked much with a biogeographic focus in my research, and it is now providing me a spatial- and globally-focused, fascinating way of conducting research. Here, I anticipate the opportunity to learn from the very best in theoretical ecology and biogeography, thanks to the extensive networking possibilities this lab offers. There are several schools that excel in the field of theoretical ecology (in France, the UK, and Canada), and I am enthusiastic about the possibility of learning from them during my Ph.D.

What do you think are the most pressing questions or challenges in your research field today? How do you stay updated with the latest developments and research in your area of interest? Can you recommend any groundbreaking or influential papers/books in your field that you think everyone should read?

I feel there are many articles that have deeply inspired my current research, and I am always excited to discuss them at any time. But if I had to choose one that defines the conceptual idiosyncrasy of my research, it would be Rangel et al.’s 2018 Science article: Modeling the ecology and evolution of biodiversity: Biogeographical cradles, museums, and graves. It reflects the upcoming interest in a process-driven modeling of biodiversity; it is definitely a promising field!

Outside of research, what are your hobbies or interests? How do you balance your research commitments with your personal life? Are there any non-research activities or groups within our institution or community that you’re interested in joining?

Well, first, I must say that biology is not only my job but also a big passion of mine, which makes me feel like I don’t actually have a job 🙂 However, I also have many other interests. I am an avid reader; any genre is fine! I love running; I cannot go more than a few days without putting on my running shoes. Chess is also a significant passion of mine, and I try to stay sharp and attend a competition whenever I can. It is hard to invest significantly in improving at chess because it is a surprisingly demanding discipline; hence, I mostly go to play in friendly matches to just have a good time. And finally, hanging out, enjoying good food, and partying are always good plans for me.