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The guiding thread of my research career has been related to soil pollution evaluation and remediation (soil biogeochemistry; environmental soil management; soil ecotoxicity and climate change).
My PhD (Technical Univ. Cartagena, Spain) was framed in deepening the knowledge of metal dynamics in metal-polluted, eutrophic wetlands to advance in the proposal of remediation measures. While the remediation of metal-polluted upland systems has been widely developed (usually by soil amendments and revegetation), little information existed on the management of hydric environments. I showed that the effects of soil amendments on metals biogeochemistry-speciation in wetlands are modulated by the presence/absence of plants and the soil redox status. These findings revealed that remediation strategies suitable for upland systems are not always adequate for metal-polluted hydric environments, particularly those receiving eutrophic water. This gave me a broad vision of the environmental problems of metal pollution and led me to become interested in soil ecotoxicology to link the biogeochemical issues with pollutants toxic effects. Moreover, I was curious about how metal dynamics and soil ecotoxicity might be affected by climate change.
With this goal, I made my first postdoc abroad at VU Univ. Amsterdam (Holland) funded by the Ramón Areces Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship. I studied the effects of rising air temperature and soil dryness (among the climate factors most affected by global warming) on the ecotoxicity of metal-polluted soils, using soil invertebrates as bioindicators. It was a pioneer work since it was one of the first dealing with various climate factors and soils with multiple stressful conditions for biota, something far from conventional ecotoxicity testing. I showed that warmer-drier environments might increase the toxicity of metal-polluted soils to soil invertebrates by directly altering their performance, but also by changing soil metal bioavailability and thus invertebrates¿ metal bioaccumulation. Moreover, I found that this might exacerbate over invertebrates¿ generations. This shows that climate change could increase the ecotoxicity of polluted terrestrial ecosystems and, hence, decrease their functionality, and the need to prioritize remediation actions in those areas most susceptible of damage. Then, I made my second postdoc abroad at Univ. Aveiro (Portugal) funded by the Marie Sk¿odowska-Curie IF Program and two R&D projects as PI. Here the challenge was to deepen a more comprehensive understanding of climate change effects on polluted ecosystems ecotoxicity/functionality. I took a step forward with the incorporation of atm. CO2 and UV radiation, to simulate climate change scenarios, and the response of soil microorganisms as a new bioindicator. I found evidence of damage at genetic/biochemical level of soil invertebrates subjected to the combined stress of metal pollution and forecasted climate scenarios, these changes being accompanied by population alterations. Moreover, the results showed the key role of invertebrates to attenuate the changes that climate alterations might have in the microbiome structure/functions of polluted soils. The great effort made laying the foundations for a new research line on soil metal pollution and climate change has been rewarded with multiple publications in top-ranking journals, communications at prestigious congresses and high-level networking.
After six years abroad, I have returned to the Technical Univ. Cartagena first through a Saavedra Fajardo Contract and now with a Ramón y Cajal Contract. Since my work has shown that the risks posed by metal pollution to environmental and, thus, to human health could be exacerbated by climate change, management plans should consider these findings to properly address this issue, particularly in the most sensible areas such as the Mediterranean semiarid where soil is an increasingly limited natural resource. To contribute to this goal, I currently lead a national ¿Retos¿ R&D project as PI. The aim is to unravel how future climate scenarios will impact the ecotoxicity/functionality of polluted ecosystems from the Mediterranean semiarid region, including the response of polluted areas with different remediation strategies.
Besides all this, the following aspects have been key in my career progression: i) participation in several regional/national/international projects and proposals preparation; ii) high involvement in training/supervising students from different academic levels (11 vocational education, 7 bachelor, 5 master) and young researchers (4 PhD students, 2 postdocs) in the different countries I have worked; iii) member of the examination committee of 1 MSc and 7 PhD Thesis, and evaluator of EU projects; iv) task liaison for research institutes development at Technical Univ. Cartagena within EUt+ Initiative; v) active member of SECS-Spanish Society of Soil Science (secretary of Section ¿Soil Degradation Control & Recovery¿ and member of the jury for best SECS PhD Thesis 2022) and SETAC-Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (chair of scientific sessions in the last European annual meetings).
Research group website: http://suelos.upct.es/en