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David Alonso Villalobos Chaves
The natural history of tropical organisms: One of the core aspects of my research interests is focused on discovering and describing unknown details about the natural history of tropical organisms. In highly diverse ecosystems where MANY species coexist, basic biological data about the presence and the interactions of the organisms with their resources and their environment is crucial to better understand their ecological roles, as well as the influence of natural or artificial (i.e., human) disturbances in the ecology, behavior, and evolution of the species. At times were science is almost strictly driven by questionable statistics such as the impact factor, which bias scientist to think that detailed but small observations of undocumented behaviors, food items, or distributions do not have a high impact; documenting, describing, and understanding the natural history of living organisms is imperative to better elucidate more complex patterns in the natural world.
Animal-Plant interactions: Animals and plants interact in a diverse array of ways. Some of those interactions benefit both partners, but this is not always the case. Moreover, animal-plant interactions are not usually black and white, thus a continuum of responses are expected depending on the intrinsic variables of each partner and the environment. I am highly interested in the evolution mutualistic (e.g., seed dispersal and pollination) and non-mutualistic interactions (e..g, non-trophic and trophic antagonisms). Specifically, I am eager to explore and answer questions such as: Which partner benefits more? What variables shape the benefits of each partner? Why some partners are more effective than others in their interaction? Why some partners cheat their mutualistic contract? Which factors shape the existence of generalist and specialist partners? among others.
Animal movement and spatial ecology: Animals do not move randomly, thus those movements are driven by intrinsic variables of the species and its environment. Understanding which of those variables are more important in shaping the temporal and spatial patterns of the movement of an animal is one of my research interests. Within this, I am particularly curious to explore how the spatial distribution and the temporal fluctuations on the availability of key resources such as food and shelter influence animal movements. Fast and exciting technological advances are rapidly transforming this field of research, allowing us to obtain detailed information about the animals' location but also about their physiological state (e.g., heart rate, temperature), fine-scale movements, animal posture, and social interactions among individuals or species. Moreover, these technological advances are also allowing us to generate information about animals that, due to their small body size, have not been previously studied until recent years.
Ecomorphology and feeding behavior: My interest in this field of research started at the Museo de Zoología, Universidad de Costa Rica (where I worked with museum specimens) and at the field observing animals feeding on different food items. At UW, Seattle, and under the mentorship of Sharlene Santana, my current P.h.D. program is focusing on enhancing my criteria and abilities to perform and develop ideas related to these topics. I am interested in how morphological variation on several pieces of the feeding apparatus and behavioral plasticity influence feeding performance and diet preferences on vertebrates. I am particularly interested in exploring how measurements of teeth complexity can inform us and help us understand the dietary items consumed by the living organisms, as well as how the physical properties of food items had influenced the evolution of shape in biological structures.
I grew up in a small town of Limón, a province that belongs to a small but beautiful and highly diverse country of Central America (Costa Rica). As a good Latin American and "tico" I enjoy our food, our people, our landscapes, and, in general, our culture. My interest and curiosity about nature started since I was a child, and looking back, I strongly believe that growing up surrounded by forests, rivers, and wild animals motivated me to pursue a career in biological sciences.
I am always looking to grow up as a professional, and for this reason, nowadays, I am pursuing a P.h.D. at the University of Washington in Seattle, USA. By doing this, I want to acquire more tools, enhance my scientific thinking, and become a better scientist. I expect to use my knowledge to both, contribute to the endeavor of understanding and conserving our natural world and training new generations of scientists to continue this task.
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