Team: Pamela González del Pliego

Caption: “I am the one in the back”

Meet Pamela who recently started her new postdoctoral contact with the Natura connect project within Araújo Lab.

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

I am a conservation scientist with a passion for using quantitative tools to understand the drivers of biodiversity loss and create strategies to mitigate that loss. I fell in love with research while I was working with reptiles on my thesis for my bachelor’s in biology in Mexico. I then pursued a Master’s degree in Applied Ecology at the University of East Anglia, UK (it was an Erasmus Mundus masters that also took place at “Université de Poitiers”, France and “Universidade de Coimbra”, Portugal). My thesis involved doing fieldwork in the lowlands of Colombia. Initially I wanted to work with reptiles on the impacts of oil palm plantations on communities, but I also included amphibians as they were more abundant. My newly acquired expertise in amphibians led to a PhD in ecology and conservation at The University of Sheffield, UK. I did fieldwork in Colombia but this time in the Andes, where I studied the impacts of land-use and climate change on microhabitats, amphibian communities and thermal tolerances. I started to include some phylogenetic aspects into my analyses which led to a postdoctoral position at Yale University where I developed a trait and phylogenetic framework to assess the threat status of data deficient amphibian species. As a result of this work, I have been interviewed by the BBC (UK), the ABC (Australia), The Times, and National Geographic.

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

When I joined this research group I started working with invasive bird species, creating a framework based on vacant niches (as a metric for carrying capacity) to understand their geographical distribution. I am also working with ecological networks, identifying the interactions at a higher risk of being lost in the global predator-prey network of mammals. I recently started working on a different project that aims to create an ecologically representative, resilient and well-connected network of conserved areas across Europe. I aim to understand and measure the departure of mammal communities from their “expected” level of saturation (carrying capacity) based on current data and based on data from 130,000 years ago. This research aligns very well with the several publications from this research group on trophic structures. Working with global datasets brings several challenges due to the large amount of data to process. The main way I plan to address this is by spending more conscious time examining datasets as well as collaborating more closely with my colleagues to anticipate mistakes.

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?

Although I have vast experience using R, I hope I can become more efficient at code writing and be more meticulous at annotating the code. I am also expanding my skills in lecturing, and I hope I will become a better lecturer. In the next five years I want my research to have a biogeographical focus of understanding biodiversity loss and how it affects other facets of biodiversity (e.g., functional, and phylogenetic diversity). In particular I want to create strategies to mitigate that loss that include climate change, dynamic land-use change models, natural protected areas and maybe socio-economic impacts. I am also interested in presenting my work at conferences more often.

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

There are a plethora of pressing challenges in ecology. First that comes to mind is that the most studied taxonomic groups are terrestrial vertebrates (which is a problem for the rest of the “forgotten” groups), but within these groups we still have an extensive lack of data for many amphibians and reptiles. This lack of data or lack of good quality data compromises our ability to understand biogeographical patterns. For example, without high quality occurrence data we are unable to create the best predictions of species’ distributions, which in turn hampers our ability to create the best strategies for conservation.

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

I used to have newsletter alerts that would send me a list of the most recent papers in my area of interest, but it was extremely hard to keep on top of it. Nowadays I think that by actively searching for the most important/current publications related to my ongoing research is the way to go. I also rely on colleagues that share their own publications and publications they find relevant.

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?

One of my favourite activities is swimming, especially in open waters. I also love animals, mainly mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. For me, playing with animals, whether fluffy puppies or funky snakes is a great source of pleasure! I also enjoy reading a good book or listening to a podcast. I love travelling, meeting new people, and having a good laugh and a beer with friends. I think my work-life balance is a dynamic balance in which I lean into work more or into family more, depending on the stage of production of a publication I am at.