Armand Rausell-Moreno, who recently completed his Master's degree in the biodiversity of tropical areas at the Universidad Internacional Menéndez Pelayo (CSIC-UIMP), has been named one of two winners of the 2022 Young Researchers Award.
An expert jury selected Rausell-Moreno, who was nominated by Spain's delegation to GBIF, for his research into developing an easy, reproducible and low-cost process for identifying groups and populations whose ecological differences may mask cryptic diversity hiding within currently described species.
Rausell-Moreno's programme of study responds to a renewal of attention around the concept of ecological speciation. This well-documented form of divergence by natural selection arises where different populations of organisms previously classified as single species become reproductively isolated because of ecological factors. The resulting reduction or elimination of gene flow between the two populations, once detected through phylogenetic analysis of evolutionary relationships present in DNA samples, can result in a taxonomic revision that splits one species into two (or more) species.
The proposed software-based approach combines environmental niche modelling and clustering metholodogies with recently published phylogenies that now provide evidence for the presence of two to five different species where once was one. Using data on other environmental variables alongside GBIF-mediated occurrence data, Rausell-Moreno has tested the approach on species such as balsam spurge (Euphorbia balsamifera), the common earwig (Forficula auricularia) and the Eastern king snake (Lampropeltis getula) to analyse whether the ecological context can explain the structure of the divergent populations, whether in full or in part. The availability of open biodiversity data and existing low- or no-cost tools and suggests the possibility of applying this screening methodology at a much larger scale.
"Based on the results thus far, this methodology shows promise as a tool for delimiting species populations," said Rausell-Moreno. "In some case, we have been able to correctly classify individuals into their genetically determined populations with an accuracy up to 92 per cent prior to providing the algorithm with any information about the clade assignments from the phylogenetic studies."
"Armand is a dedicated student and committed to a career in the field of conservation biology and biodiversity," said Javier Diequez Uribeondo, Vice Director of Research at the Real Jardín Botánico (RBJ-CSIC), one of 120 research institutes comprised within the the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC: in Spanish, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas). "His passion for research is evident from his excellent results, which demonstrates the potential for his clustering approach in conducting large-scale screening to identify potential instances of ecological speciation."
""Armand set out the objective of his thesis clearly after having thought about all the possible problems he could face, which demonstrated his analytical mind and something I would define as a researcher's spark that is uncommon among Master's students," said Jesús Muñoz, researcher at RBJ-CSIC and Rausell-Moreno's thesis advisor. "The study opens new avenues of research to speed up the detection of cryptic or overlooked species, possibly helping to reduce the effect of the taxonomic impediment that most organisms' groups face."
Rausell-Moreno is the third Spanish student to win the award, following Nora Escribano and Julen Torrens Baile who earned selection in 2017 and 2021, respectively. Rausell-Moreno has just started work as a graduated Technician at the Valencian Institute of Agrarian Research.
Rausell-Moreno shares the 2022 award with Christopher Schiller of Freie Universität Berlin in Germany, with both winners receiving a €5,000 prize.
About the Award
About Universidad Internacional Menéndez Pelayo
The Universidad Internacional Menéndez Pelayo (CSIC-UIMP) is an independent institution affiliated to the Ministry of Universities with its main headquarters in Madrid, whose mission is to promote culture and science, foster international and inter-regional relationships, scientific and cultural exchanges, as well as run advanced and specialised research activities. Learn more.