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Ruben de la Torre Cerro

Ph.D. candidate  


Supervisors: Dr. James Guest, Dr. Aileen Mill, Dr.  Jamie Craggs, Dr. Holly East

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I have always been interested in studying biodiversity, how anthropogenic stressors are disturbing it and what can be done to mitigate impacts on ecosystem functions. This interest was a strong motivator to undertake my B.Sc. in Environmental Science and my M.Sc. in Biodiversity Conservation and Ecology, both at URJC in Madrid. During that time, I developed a wide interest in ecological and marine sciences that led me to work investigating the effects of global change drivers such as habitat fragmentation, invasive species and climate change on different species abundance and distribution patterns. For my M.Sc. theses I worked evaluating phenological patterns of a cryptic invasive seaweed species compared to that of their native congeners in northern Spanish coasts. In this case, I aimed to demonstrate possible ecological advantages of invasive vs native species related to changing climatic conditions, such as sea surface temperature increase.

The last few years my research has focussed on studying phenology and how climate change effects can alter phenological events and synchrony across different plant and animal groups. In 2019 I was awarded a research fellowship – Mres, supported by the Irish EPA, that I carried out at UCC and graduated with distinction in 2021. During this time, I investigated how fine spatiotemporal scale climate change drivers affect phenological events, with a particular focus on synchrony between interlinked species (i.e. primary producers – primary consumers – secondary consumers). Phenological synchrony is vital to maintain the trophic network as well as ecosystems functions and structure. This work illustrated the value of using fine scale drivers to explore climate sensitivity in interlinked taxa (i.e. woodland vegetation, lepidoptera, migrant birds) while also suggested a number of phenological asynchronies over time for different species combinations, particularly in the upper levels (primary consumers-secondary consumers).

Corals have always fascinated me, they are a diverse group of animals and the ecosystem engineers of coral reefs. Despite corals playing a crucial role in maintaining coral reef ecosystems and providing many services (i.e., food, coastal protection, tourism) there are still many things to find out about them. For example, synchrony is particularly important for coral reproduction, given that many species and populations rely on mass broadcast spawning events that can occur once a year during a short period of time. Therefore, synchrony in coral reproduction is fundamental for maintaining populations and ensuring recruitment of new individuals to the population. I recently joined the Coralassist Lab at Newcastle University where I am carrying out my Ph.D. research project investigating the environmental cues that influence reproductive phenology and synchrony of scleractinian corals. My research also focuses on the use of different spatiotemporal scale climate change drivers to determine possible reproductive asynchronies in coral species of several ecoregions. In order to address these research questions my project involves the use of different approaches such as ecological modelling, manipulative aquarium experiments and field work. This is a multidisciplinary project within the marine ecology field binding with phenology, biostatistics, reef ecology, climate change and ecological modelling. By completing my Ph.D. I aim to not only to fill knowledge gaps about coral phenology and synchrony, but also to develop climatic predictive models that could be of help to direct efforts and elaborate actions in order to preserve coral reefs.

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