Facing the 6th mass extinction: new tools for biodiversity conservation

The Project

The Earth is currently experiencing a large decline in biodiversity caused by human activity. This is known as the Sixth Mass Extinction and its five main drivers are habitat loss, alien species, over-exploitation, pollution ,and climate change. About 86% of all eukaryotic species still have not been described and most of them will go extinct before they can even be discovered. On top of that, out of the known species, more than 32,000 are threatened with extinction according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Efforts to preserve biodiversity and halt its decline are crucial if we want to stop the current mass extinction. But first, we need to understand biodiversity in order to protect it. For many centuries, scientists have been using mainly morphological characters to describe new species. Nowadays, with the advent of genetics, evolutionary biologists have new tools and new perspectives on the insights of biodiversity, which allow them to study species evolution, their ecology, unveil cryptic species, and identify biodiversity hotspots to prioritize for conservation.

Do you want to put yourself in the shoes of an evolutionary biologist?

In this project, you will study the biodiversity of an archipelago, from species identification to their distribution, using cutting-edge genetic, genomic, morphological, geospatial, and bioinformatics tools. You will be tasked with the databasing, mapping, andidentification of different species based on their morphology and DNA barcoding techniques. You will extract DNA from samples and perform PCRs.You will also study the effects of an emergent disease caused by an invasive species that is threatening the archipelago’s biodiversity using the qPCR technique to detect and monitor infection levels. But that's not all! During this challenge, you will also apply bioinformatics tools to infer phylogenetic trees that will allow you to reconstruct the evolutionary history of the archipelago’s species before they go extinct.

With this evolutionary puzzle, you will learn from the ground up how we discover, identify, and classify species in order to protect them, while having the opportunity to have fun as a scientist and to grow with your own team. At the same time, the new skills that you will acquire during this project will broaden your view on biodiversity, evolution, and our natural world, while experiencing the day-to-day life of an evolutionary biologist. 

Join us and take part in our project to prevent biodiversity from undergoing the Sixth Mass Extinction!

Matching profiles

Evolutionary biology, genomics, phylogenomics, systematics, conservation, bioinformatics

Learning objectives
  • To discover the latest molecular biology and genomics tools used in evolutionary biology research.
  • To learn about the research behind the conservation of species and the understanding of evolution.
  • To develop critical thinking. At the end of the project, students should be able to identify species based on different kinds of samples and to interpret this knowledge to develop biodiversity conservation actions.
Required materials

Laptop and labcoat

Coordinators of the project

Salvador Carranza

  • BSc in Biology, University of Barcelona (UB) 1992; PhD in Genetics 1997 UB; Researcher Department of Zoology, Natural History Museum, London, 1998–2004.
  • 2004–2008 Ramon & Cajal Research Fellow, Biology Department, UB, Spain
  • 2008–2018 CSIC Permanent Researcher and Principal Investigator of the reptiles and amphibians lab at IBE. Promoted to Senior Researcher since 2018
  • 2016–present Associate Professor of Zoology, Human Biology Degree, Pompeu Fabra University
  • More than 160 scientific publications in SCI journals, Director of 18 national and international projects, 12 PhD and 23 MSc supervised, 31 new vertebrate species described.

Bernat Burriel

  • Predoctoral researcher in Systematics, Biogeography and Evolution of Reptiles and Amphibians Lab at IBE with an FPU fellowship. Studying the processes of diversification, distribution and colonization of reptiles in arid environments.
  • BSc in Environmental Biology at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and MSc in Biodiversity at Universitat de Barcelona.
  • MSc thesis at IBE, assessing the diversity, distribution, phylogeny and conservation of terrestrial reptiles in the United Arab Emirates.
  • Research technician in the Spanish National Project: Arabian reptiles as a model to investigate how biodiversity is generated and maintained in arid regions.
  • Project Manager and outreach technician at Observatori de Difusió de la Ciència (ODC-UAB)

Patricia Suárez Ara

  • Predoctoral researcher in Multicell Genome Lab at IBE with an FPI fellowship. Developing genetic tools to study unicellular relatives of animals and the origin of animal multicellularity
  • BSc in Biology and MSc in Biomolecules and Cell Dynamics from Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (UAM)
  • Bachelor’s thesis at Spanish National Center for Biotechnology (CNB-CSIC) learning molecular and cellular biology techniques
  • Master’s thesis at IMDEA Nanociencia Institute applying a diverse variety of molecular biology and chemical techniques in an interdisciplinary team

Mattia Menchetti

  • Predoctoral researcher at IBE with a “la Caixa” Doctoral Fellowship INPhINIT Retaining, working on the project “The genetic map of European ants”.
  • Former Research Assistant at the University of Florence (Italy), working on Mediterranean butterfly phylogeography.
  • Former Research Assistant at IBE, working on a National Geographic Society founded project on Citizen Science and butterfly migrations.
  • Former active member of the EU COST funded project ParrotNet, an European network of scientists, practitioners and policy-makers dedicated to research on invasive alien parrots.
  • Master Degree in Biology at the University of Florence (Italy).

Gemma Isabel Martínez

  • Studying the genomic basis of terrestrialization in arthropods at Metazoa Phylogenomics Lab at IBE
  • Research stay as an Amgen scholar at the University of Cambridge (Department of Zoology)
  • BSc Degree in Genetics and MSc Degree in Bioinformatics at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB)
  • MSc thesis at the Institut de Biotecnologia i Biomedicina (IBB) integrating population genomics and transcriptomics to estimating adaptation in humans
  • Active member of QuinteScience, youth scientific association involved in the organization of activities such as the Spanish Junior Science Olympiad

Leonardo Platania

  • Predoctoral researcher at IBE with an FPI fellowship. Studying evolution and biodiversity of Western Pacific leaf-beetles (Chrysomelidae, eumolpinae).
  • Former Research Assistant at the University of Florence (Italy), working on conservation of the butterfly Zerynthia cassandra Geyer, 1828 population in Elba island.
  • Master Degree in Biology at the University of Florence (Italy), with a thesis on the social-wasp Polistes dominula (Christ, 1791) communication.
  • Erasmus internship at IBE, working on a project on cryptic species of European Butterflies.
  • Bachelor degree in Biology at the University of Florence (Italy) with a thesis on the urban ant diversity in Florence.
The center

The Institute of Evolutionary Biology (IBE) is a joint institute of Pompeu Fabra University (UPF) and the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) created in 2008 in Barcelona.