Climate change has an undeniable potential to modify ecosystem structures. With both its direct and indirect effects, populations’ dynamics are threatened from fluctuating environmental conditions.
Colors perform key functions in animals and over millions of years, they evolved to yield the current spectacular diversity. They are produced by the emission and/or reflectance of wavelengths (light) on the organism surface. Pigments and Chromatophores are the most known color producing mechanisms; however, in nature there are other structures capable to produce coloration (e.g. structural colors, bioluminescences).
The Evolution and Optics of Nanostructures Group not only investigates coloration within visible spectrum (380-700 nm), but also explores the UV and the NIR regions of the solar radiation range. Indeed, most of the sun’s energy-rich radiation occurs into the NIR (700-2600 nm). The current interest resides to understand how color producing mechanisms can potentially affect animals thermoregulation.
My PhD project focus to understand how colors evolved in Lepidosauria (tuataras + squamates) and Archosauria (crocodiles + birds). Specifically, the research aims to investigate the thermal capabilities of color producing mechanisms and how they can potentially affect the ecology and the structure of these organisms. Emphasis is drawn to structural colors as these nanostructures have the potential to reflect a high amount of solar energy.
As overarching purpose, this study will correlate future climatic projections together with the so far obtained results to produce models able to describe how these organisms will cope with climate change. The results will be critical to implement regulations capable to protect these species.
Currently, I am investigating the evolution of bright chromatophores in vipers. This project focuses on how and why 25 Mya vipers rapidly radiated giving rise to many new species. Understanding which selective forces shaped the evolution of these snakes will help to predict how they will evolve in our changing world.
Further, I am undertaking an extensive field work in South Africa (October 2018-June 2019) aiming to disclose the thermal properties and evolution of color producing mechanisms in agamids and cordylids. Soon the updates.
Here is a brief footage made by one of our funding agencies, showing what we are doing in South Africa.