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Biodiversity and Evolutionary Biology


Head of Department:

Anabel Perdices






The scientific vocation of the Department of Biodiversity and Evolutionary Biology is to describe the animal biodiversity patterns and infer and demonstrate the mechanisms and processes underlying this from an evolutionary perspective. The scales of analysis are very broad, ranging from the taxonomic description to molecular analysis for describing phylogenetic relationships and biogeographic patterns from aspects related to demographics, behavior and interactions between local species. The groups studied are very different animals, including Rotifera, Turbellaria, nematodes, molluscs, crustaceans, an enormous variety of insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. 





In order to warrant Biodiversity preservation, politicians and environmentally oriented NGOs, both sharing popular interests, claim for the necessity of a global inventory of Biological Diversity. At the same time research lines dealing with (1) evolutionary processes of Biodiversity, including how biodiversity originates, how evolutionary lineages diversified and the processes leading to lineage extinction, together with (2) patterns of current Biodiversity, including the description of its taxonomic structure and the proposal of phylogenetic and phylogeographic hypothesis which describe de geographic distribution of genetic variability and the historical relationships among organisms and their geographic ranges, are identified as key-lines across all world scientific programs in response to the basic principle that preservation of the Planet involves necessarily a deep scientific knowledge of its Biodiversity. This is secondarily reflected by the (1) long standing citation rate for taxonomic works and by (2) the high impact factor of the journals studying evolutionary patterns and processes of Biodiversity.


The scientific line Taxonomic Structure and Evolution of Animal Biodiversity at the MNCN, is not only a key research line, but it represents the vertebral axis of its scientific program and the ultimate reason of the existence and functioning of our, and any, Natural History Museum. Describing Biodiversity, searching for its origins, its diversification and its extinction, as well as providing the basic data for its conservation are, no doubt, what citizens claim for and demand to the scientists of a Natural History Museum.


Immersed in the current Biodiversity crisis the scientific proposal of the Taxonomic Structure and Evolution of Animal Biodiversity research line includes as a primary goal the description of the patterns and processes that have given rise to the past and present biological diversity. Within this general objective we focus on (1) the taxonomic structure of Biodiversity, including its inventory, description and evolutionary arrangement, (2) the study of molecular and morphological processes responsible of biological diversification, (3) the analyses of historical processes leading to lineage diversification and their evolution, (4) the genetic structure of populations and demes and its consequences for lineage formation, (5) a fine scale analyses of the consequences of past and present global climate changes for the geographic distribution of the genetic variability, (6) the implications of faunistics, land- and seascape genetics, and taxic diversification for conservation at both local and global scales, including biodiversity restoration, and (7) the description of historical and current extinction processes and their relevance for the phylogenetic understanding of the evolution of present Biota.





The main objective is a combination of the objectives of the research sublines:

  • To provide a framework which allows both, scientists and general public, to understand how Biodiversity is structured. The conventional framework we propose is taxonomic and relies in the evolutionary processes that generate biological diversity. Having a conventional framework to disect and analyse the problem (“how Biodiversity is structured”) allows for the development of adequate strategies and focussed objectives. The activity of the line will be focussed on outlining and defining evolutionary lineages, describing their components below or above the species level, studying their relationships, and their distribution on Earth, and providing the basic tools for their conservation. These tasks will be combined with the proposal of phylogenetic hypotheses, phylogeographic models, and population genetic analyses directed towards the study of the evolutionary processes and mechanisms involved in the origin and maintenance of Biodiversity. The study of speciation processes based on the accumulation of population genetics and phylogeographic data for a wide variety of taxa permits the development of new empirical and theoretical advances in the field. The integration of phylogeographic data with information generated by other sublines has permitted the development of landscape and seascape genetics, powerful tools to analyse how biodiversity is affected by recent and past geographic and climatic changes.
  • To generate taxonomic catalogues of regional fauna and to produce identification manuals with Fauna Iberica as a reference point.
  • To generate robust molecular phylogenies for a variety of taxa in order to address questions of the evolutionary history of lineages with emphasis on its diversification patterns and extinction, addressing key questions on the deep phylogenetic origin of the main clades conforming current Biodiversity.
  • To analyze the evolutionary consequences of lineage diversification for morphological change and the origin of evolutionary novelties. To study evolutionary radiations with an emphasis on the causes promoting fast diversification processes.
  • To analyse the relevance of the faunistics and taxonomic (classic and molecular) findings to determine patterns of Biodiversity Structure.
  • To analyze evolutionary mechanisms responsible for the maintenance of current diversity at the population level. To identify levels of gene flow across fragmented populations of endangered species to address questions of local extinction probabilities, or to identify suitable areas for the establishment of faunal corridors.
  • To establish a Biodiversity Screening laboratory capable of combined taxonomic and molecular surveys of local biodiversity.
  • To determine areas of ancient diversification, glacial refugia and persistence of ancient lineages using a phylogeographic approach.To use comparative phylogeographic analyses to identify areas that concentrate large amounts of genetic diversity in combination with a seascape of landscape genetic approach to be properly managed as protected areas.
  • To provide maps of genetic diversity at the species level in order to determine factors affecting isolation and dispersal of demes.
  • To identify genes involved specifically in the initial stages of the speciation process.
  • To infer the biogeographic history of species and lineages using tree-based methodology. To contribute to the study of molecular evolution across lineages identifying common versus particular features.
  • To investigate the link between speciation, phylogeografic patterns, molecular diversity and behaviour. To analyze the role of sexual selection through vocalization in the species formation processes and at the initial stages of incipient lineage differentiation.
  • To investigate how population dynamics are linked with behavioural strategies and determine the implications for speciation, population persistence and conservation.


Knowledge Transfer objectives

  • To offer local governments programs for the inventory of local fauna providing faunistic, taxonomic and basic molecular data on genetic diversity.
  • To determine the genetic structure of populations of endangered species identifying levels of genetic depauperation and extinction risks and to provide estimates of effective population sizes based on molecular data.
  • To determine current or past patterns of gene flow across populations in order to evaluate connectivity and the need for faunal corridors and therefore to provide the necessary genetic tools and data for any recovery or conservation plan in collaborative work with environmental agencies
  • To identify key areas to be preserved because of the presence of large amount of locally endemic fauna, contributing to identify Biodiversity hot-spots and because of the presence of relevant singular genetic characteristics of the species inhabiting the region including identification of refugium areas, where ancient lineages survived to Pleistocene Climate changes.
  • Creation of a web-based reference data base of species-specific acoustic recordings for taxonomic identification
  • To provide molecular tools for the industry and judicial agencies in order to identify species involved in wildlife trade, or natural food processing.


Training objectives

  • Training of PhD students is conducted with objectives of excellence with the final goal of generating highly competitive scientists.
  • High quality training and molecular advisor for European partners (Synthesis Program) or for Northern African and Latin American students and researchers. This goal is currently strongly limited by the lack of physical space.


Outreach objectives

  • To increase the production of book and book chapters on taxonomic, conservation and evolutionary subjects, like species accounts for Red Data Books and the tree of life, for the general public and researchers of other fields
  • To produce articles for popular journals and inform through press releases on the research accomplished at the MNCN.
  • To make public the scientific results and collaborative programs with environmental agencies, through talks and seminars.
  • To inform the general public about the extreme levels of damage to local Biodiversity, including lineage losses, as a direct consequence of urbanistic and habitat modification in many areas of Spain, notably the Madrid region and the Mediterranean coast.


Internationalisation objectives

  • Our scientific line is already integrated in multiple collaborative programs with research institutions across the European Union, Latin American countries, Northern African countries and the USA.
  • We encourage international students to join our lab and make sure that our results are presented at international congresses.


Common services objectives

  • To increase the throughput of the Molecular Systematics lab, to increase holdings of the DNA and tissue collections, and to implement new facilities and services for a taxonomic and molecular identification units and a laboratory of natural sounds.
  • To contribute to international sequence data banks with large data sets.
  • To recover and make available for general use historical analyses of the past scientific materials (literature, original materials…) related with zoological research at the MNCN


Gender equality objectives

  • Former bias in favour of male permanent researchers within the line as a consequence of historical factors is still obvious, particularly above the tenure level (Professors) and within the Ramón & Cajal postdoctoral researchers. However, the line offers equal gender opportunities, a fact markedly visible at the student level, so we expect a future correction of current bias.
















Existen tres grandes proyectos online en los que se incluyen bases de datos y se divulgan distintos aspectos de la biología de la fauna española:


* Fauna Ibérica,

* Enciclopedia Virtual de los Vertebrados Españoles,

* Fonoteca Zoológica,


Personal científico

Ministerio de Ciencia, Innovación y UniversidadesConsejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas

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