Kudos to Núria Galiana!! She won the prestigious “Ramón y Cajal” Fellowship, which provides funding for an extended period of 5 years. In Spain, these fellowships are considered as nearly-equivalent to a tenured track position. Núria has been a Marie Curie Research Fellow in Araújo Lab’s for over 2 years. In this happy day, we asked her a few questions.

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

I studied environmental sciences at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, where I also obtained my master’s degree in Terrestrial Ecology and Biodiversity. I then moved to France to obtain my PhD in Ecology at the Center for Biodiversity Theory and Modelling in the French Pyrenees. During my PhD I started working on the integration of spatial and biogeographical processes into species interaction networks, a topic that ended up being my main research interest. I moved back to Spain in 2021 to start working in my Marie Curie project at the Museum.

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

My research has primarily focused on bridging the traditional gap between biogeographical studies and network ecology. In particular, I studied the mechanisms behind the geographical variation of complex ecological networks, the importance of the spatial scale for understanding network structure, or the influence of biotic interactions in determining species range sizes.
Aside from the integration between biogeography, spatial processes and species interaction networks, during my previous postdoc experiences, I have also worked on the effects of different types of perturbations driven by global change on community structure and its stability. Regardless of the research question, my approach always combines the development of computational and theoretical models with the analysis of large empirical datasets.

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

Although my background is in community ecology, very early on I became interested in macroecological patterns and building new knowledge beyond the traditional local scale used in community ecology. I am also very passionate about ecological networks, so my main research interest is the integration of spatial and biogeographical processes into species interaction network research to better understand large-scale biodiversity patterns. The main objective of my research is twofold: to understand how ecological communities are organised across the globe and to disentangle the role of biotic interactions in determining large-scale biodiversity patterns.

What will you be working on in our research group, and what are your goals for this project?
I am currently a Marie Curie fellow studying the role of biotic interactions in determining species range size. We have already shown that species with larger ranges have more biotic interactions locally and that they are also able to interact with a larger diversity of species across sites, resulting in a larger number of interactions at continental scales. With the use of null models, we were able to show that the biotic dimension of the niche strongly influences species range size. Moreover, we were able to show that super-generalist species, possessing both broad environmental tolerance and diet generality, interact with a disproportionately large number of the species they co-occur with, leading to ecological networks with scale-free power law degree distributions. Thus, this project is allowing me to elucidate the importance of the interplay between the spatial distribution of species and their biotic interactions for the assembly of ecological communities.

How does your current research align with the overall objectives of our research group?
The group has a broad spectrum of research interests, but I think that a fundamental one is the understanding of how biodiversity is distributed on Earth. My research is devoted to show that biotic interactions are a fundamental piece of biodiversity and a key element to understand large-scale biodiversity patterns. I therefore believe that this research group is the perfect stimulating environment to develop my research.

Are there any particular challenges you anticipate facing in your current research? How do you plan to address them?
A big challenge is disentangling the relative effects of biotic interactions and environmental factors on the spatial distribution of species. I think the use of null models can be helpful but also keep thinking of potential signatures of the role of biotic interactions on large-scale biodiversity patterns that we haven’t thought of yet.

What skills or knowledge are you hoping to develop during your time in this research group?
Before arriving to this research group I had a solid background on complex networks, biotic interactions and community dynamics, and through my training here these past two years and the interaction with the other members of the group, I boosted my knowledge on biogeography, species distribution modelling and Geographic Information Systems.

Where do you see your research taking you in the next five years?
I hope to contribute to the growth and establishment of the emergent field of Network Biogeography. In more practical terms, I would like to continue doing my research as a Ramon y Cajal researcher and eventually get a position in the CSIC.

Are there any particular conferences, journals, or professional networks you are keen to engage with through your research here?
Given that I did my PhD and first years of postdoc in France, I established most of my professional networks there. Now I am happy to have the opportunity to better connect with Spanish research groups.

What do you think are the most pressing questions or challenges in your research field today?
Besides trying to disentangle the relative effects of biotic interactions and environmental factors for biodiversity patterns, I think that making the connection of the research we do with conservation will be fundamental in the upcoming future.

How do you stay updated with the latest developments and research in your area of interest?
I try to devote one hour per day to read science. I also think that being an editor and a reviewer for the main journals in the field helps to stay updated.

Can you recommend any groundbreaking or influential papers/books in your field that you think everyone should read?
My favourite scientific book is ‘Geographical Ecology: Patterns in the Distribution of Species’ by Robert H. MacArthur (1984). As a research paper I was very inspired by ‘The problem of pattern and scale’ by Simon Levin (1992).

Outside of research, what are your hobbies or interests?
I like rock climbing and hiking, so I spend most of my weekends in the mountains.

How do you balance your research commitments with your personal life?
As a new mum of a very young baby I am still trying to figure it out!