My Research

My research focuses on forest ecophysiology, conservation, and plant hydraulics

I have always been interested in understanding how forest ecosystems function and most of my hobbies are outdoor activities. This led me to study a BSc in Forestry Engineering at Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM). I first got involved in research as an undergraduate, investigating intraspecific diversity of Spanish pine species. The main objective of this project was to guide pine forest genetic resources management and conservation. After I graduated from my BSc in 2006, I joined a two-year MSc program in Environmental Sciences at UPM. During my MSc I worked for the Spanish Elm Breeding and Conservation Program, where I studied the Dutch elm disease (DED) pathosystem and the effects of DED on Spanish riparian forests. I also participated in breeding activities focused on obtaining elms (Ulmus spp.) resistant to DED.

I received my PhD from the Program in Advanced Forest Research at Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM) in November 2013. My PhD supervisors were Dr. Luis Gil and Dr. Carmen Collada, and the title of my PhD thesis was “The ecology of the European white elm (Ulmus laevis Pallas) in the Iberian Peninsula”. I studied the genetic diversity, reproductive biology, seed dispersal capacity, and ecophysiology of the white elm in Spain. The results of my PhD thesis showed that white elm is a native species and endangered in the region. Based on these results I proposed conservation policies for the species.

My first postdoctoral position was at California State University Bakersfield (USA) working with Dr. Anna L. Jacobsen and Dr. R. Brandon Pratt. This position was funded by a fellowship I obtained from UPM (González-Esparcia Grant). During this postdoc I studied the relationship between California chaparral plant hydraulic traits and drought-induced mortality. I also conducted several studies which evaluated techniques used for measuring plant hydraulic traits.

Since March 2016 I have been a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the School of Biological Sciences of the University of Utah (Salt Lake City, USA), where I work with Dr. John S. Sperry and Dr. William L.R. Anderegg. Currently I am developing, testing and applying a model that predicts plant responses to environmental variables from key plant hydraulic traits. This model will potentially help us evaluate the effects of climate change on forest ecosystems.

Projects

Modeling forest responses to climate change

There is great uncertainty as to how forests are going to respond to climate change. This is important because forests provide products and services, and directly affect climate through their contribution to the CO2 and water cycles. Are forests going to become more productive due to atmospheric CO2 fertilization or are they going to become less productive due to the rise in temperature, which in many regions will be associated with an increase in aridity? Are widespread mortality events going to be more common? Where are these processes going to occur across the globe? These are some of the questions I am trying to answer using a forest response model based on biophysical processes and hydraulic plant traits.

Predicting drought-induced tree mortality

Why do some trees die while others survive during a drought? What traits make a species more resistant to drought-induced mortality? Can we predict tree mortality? What traits maximize the fitness of a species within a given environment? How do plants acclimate to changing environmental conditions? Better understanding of plant traits coordination and acclimation is essential for shedding light on these questions. Thus, I am currently exploring how plant traits, such as rooting depth, xylem resistance to cavitation, and photosynthetic capacity, are coordinated for maximizing productivity and avoiding drought stress. The ultimate goal of this project is improving predictions of forests responses to drought.

Xylem structure and function

Trees need to supply a large amount of water to their leaves in order not to desiccate, becase they lose hundres of molecules of H2O for each molecule of CO2 they assimilate. Water is transported from the soil to the leaves through conduits in the xylem (wood) under negative pressure. During periods of low water availability xylem pressures become more negative and air-bubbles can be pulled into previously water filled conduits. These bubbles expand forming emboli that block water transport. This process is called cavitation. I am studying how different conduit characteristics and their 3-dimensional interconnection influence xylem resistance to cavitation.

Ecology and conservation of elms

Dutch elm disease (DED) has killed millions of elms (Ulmus sp.) across North America, Europe, and Asia, severely affecting the riparian ecosystems in which they live. The causal agent of DED is the fungus Ophiostoma novo-ulmi, and bark beetles are the propagation vector of the disease. I collaborate with GFH Forestal Research Group from Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (Spain) studying different aspects of DED pathosystem and the ecophysiology of elms to support the Spanish Elm Breeding and Conservation Program. The knowledge generated helps implement sound elm conservation policies and guides riparian restoration programs.

Publications

2019

Sperry JS*, Venturas MD*, Todd HN, Trugman AT, Anderegg WRL, Wang Y, Tai X (2019) The impact of rising CO2 and acclimation on the response of US forests to global warming. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 116(51): 25734-25744 (* denotes equal contribution of authors)

Trugman AT, Anderegg LDL, Sperry JS, Wang Y, Venturas MD, Anderegg WRL (2019) Leveraging plant hydraulics to yield predictive and dynamic plant leaf allocation in vegetation models with climate change. Global Change Biology 25: 4008-4021

Venturas MD, Pratt RB, Jacobsen AL, Castro V, Fickle JC, Hacke UG (2019) Direct comparison of four methods to construct xylem vulnerability curves: differences among techniques are linked to vessel network characteristics. Plant, Cell & Environment 42: 2422-2436

Wang Y, Sperry JS, Venturas MD, Trugman AT, Love DM, Andereg WRL (2019) The stomatal response to rising CO2 concentration and drought is predicted by a hydraulic trait-based optimization model. Tree Physiology 39: 1416–1427

Rodriguez‐Zaccaro FD, Valdovinos‐Ayala J, Percolla MI, Venturas MD, Pratt RB, Jacobsen AL (2019) Wood structure and function change with maturity: Age of the vascular cambium is associated with xylem changes in current year growth. Plant, Cell & Environment 42: 1816-1831

Jacobsen AL, Pratt RB, Venturas MD, Hacke UG (2019) Large volume vessels are vulnerable to water-stress-induced embolism in stems of poplar. IAWA Journal 40: 4-22

Love DM, Venturas MD, Sperry JS, Brooks PD, Pettit JL, Wang Y, Anderegg WLR, Tai X, Mackay DS (2019) Dependence of aspen stands on a subsurface water subsidy: implications for climate change impacts. Water Resources Research 55: 1833-1848

2018

Venturas MD, Sperry JS, Love DM, Frehner EH, Allred MG, Wang Y, Anderegg WRL (2018) A stomatal control model based on optimization of carbon gain versus hydraulic risk predicts aspen sapling responses to drought. New Phytologist 220: 836-850

Jacobsen AL, Valdovinos-Ayala J, Rodríguez-Zaccaro FD, Hill-Crim MA, Percolla M, Venturas MD (2018) Intra-organismal variation in the structure of plant vascular transport tissues in poplar trees. Trees – Structure and Function 32: 1335-1346

Perdiguero P, Sobrino-Plata J, Venturas MD, Martín JA, Gil L, Collada C (2018) Gene expression tradeoffs between defence and growth in English elm. Plant, Cell & Environment 41: 198-214

2017

Venturas MD, Hacke UG, Sperry JS (2017) Plant xylem hydraulics: What we understand, current research, and future challenges. Journal of Integrative Plant Biology 59: 356-389

Sperry JS, Venturas MD, Anderegg WLR, Mencuccini M, Mackay DS, Wang Y, Love DM (2017) Predicting stomatal responses to the environment from the optimization of photosynthetic gain and hydraulic cost. Plant, Cell & Environment 40: 816-830

El Aou-ouad H, López R, Venturas MD, Martorrel S, Medrano H, Gulías J (2017) Low resistance to cavitation and xylem anatomy partly explain the decrease in the endemism Rhamnus ludovici-salvatoris. Flora 229: 1-8

Guzmán-Delgado P, Fernández V, Venturas MD, Rodríguez-Calcerrada J, Gil L (2017) Surface properties and physiology of Ulmus laevis and U. minor samaras: implications for seed development and dispersal. Tree Physiology 37: 815-826

Charco J, Venturas MD, Gil L, Nanos N (2017) Effective seed dispersal and fecundity variation in a small and marginal population of Pinus pinaster Ait. growing in a harsh environment: implications for conservation of forest genetic resources. Forests 8: 312

2016

Venturas MD, MacKinnon ED, Dario HL, Jacobsen AL, Pratt RB, Davis SD (2016) Chaparral shrub hydraulic traits, size, and life history types relate to species mortality during California’s historic drought of 2014. Plos One 11(7): e0159145

Venturas MD, Rodriguez D, Percolla M, Crous CJ, Jacobsen AL, Pratt RB (2016) Single vessel air injection estimates of xylem resistance to cavitation are impacted by vessel network characteristics and sample length. Tree Physiology 36: 1247-1259

Li M, López R, Venturas MD, Martín JA, Domínguez J, González G, Gil L, Rodríguez-Calcerrada J (2016) Physiological and biochemical differences among Ulmus minor genotypes showing a gradient of resistance to Dutch elm disease. Forest Pathology 46: 215-228

2015

Perdiguero P, Venturas MD, Cervera MT, Gil L, Collada C (2015) Massive sequencing of Ulmus minor’s transcriptome provides new molecular tools for a genus under the constant threat of Dutch elm disease. Frontiers in Plant Science 6: 541

Li M, López R, Venturas MD, Pita P, Gordaliza G, Gil L, Rodríguez-Calcerrada J (2015) Greater resistance to flooding of seedlings of Ulmus laevis than Ulmus minor is related to the maintenance of a more positive carbon balance. Trees – Structure and Function 29: 835-848

Venturas MD, MacKinnon ED, Jacobsen AL, Pratt RB (2015) Excising stem samples underwater at native tension does not induce xylem cavitation. Plant, Cell & Environment 38: 1060-1068

Pratt RB, MacKinnon ED, Venturas MD, Crous CJ, Jacobsen AL (2015) Root resistance to cavitation is accurately measured using a centrifuge technique. Tree Physiology 35: 185-196

López de Heredia U, Nanos N, García-del-Rey E, Guzmán P, López R, Venturas MD, Gil Muñoz P, Gil L (2015) High seed dispersal ability of Pinus canariensis in stands of contrasting density inferred from genotypic data. Forest Systems 24(1): e015

Venturas MD, Fuentes-Utrilla P, López R, et al. (2015) Ulmus laevis in the Iberian Peninsula: a review of its ecology and conservation. iForest – Geosciences and Forestry 8: 135-142

Martín JA, Solla A, Venturas MD, Collada C, Domínguez J, Miranda E, Fuentes P, Burón M, Iglesias S, Gil L (2015) Seven Ulmus minor clones resistant to Ophiostoma novo-ulmi registered as forest reproductive material in Spain. iForest – Geosciences and Forestry 8: 172-180

Hacke UG, Venturas MD, MacKinnon ED, Jacobsen AL, Sperry JS, Pratt RB (2015) The standard centrifuge method accurately measures vulnerability curves of long-vesselled olive stems. New Phytologist 205: 116-127

2014

Venturas MD, Fernandez V, Nadal P, Lucena JJ, Guzman P, Gil L (2014) Root iron uptake efficiency of Ulmus laevis and U. minor and their distribution in soils of the Iberian Peninsula. Frontiers in Plant Science 5: 104

Perea R, Venturas MD, Gil L (2014) Seed predation on the ground or in the tree? Size-related differences in behaviour and ecology of granivorous birds. Acta Ornithologica 49: 119–130

Venturas MD, Nanos N, Gil L (2014) The reproductive ecology of Ulmus laevis Pallas in a transformed habitat. Forest Ecology and Management 312: 170-178

Fuentes-Utrilla P, Venturas MD, Hollingsworth PM, Squirrell J, Collada C, Stone GN, Gil L (2014) Extending glacial refugia for a European tree: genetic markers show that Iberian populations of white elm are native relicts and not introductions. Heredity 112: 105-113

Venturas MD, López R, Martín JA, Gascó A, Gil L (2014) Heritability of Ulmus minor resistance to Dutch elm disease and its relationship to vessel size, but not to xylem vulnerability to drought. Plant Pathology 63: 500-509

2013

Venturas MD, López R, Gascó A, Gil L (2013) Hydraulic properties of European elms: Xylem safety-efficiency tradeoff and species distribution in the Iberian Peninsula. Trees – Structure and Function 27: 1691-1701

Venturas MD, Fuentes-Utrilla P, Ennos R, Collada C, Gil L (2013) Human induced changes on fine-scale genetic structure in Ulmus laevis Pallas wetland forests at its SW distribution limit. Plant Ecology 214: 317-327

Venturas MD, García Álvarez S, Fajardo Alcántara M, Collada C, Gil L (2013) Species selection for reforestations: what happens with historic local extinctions and habitat protection zones? A case study in the Cantabrian Range. European Journal of Forest Research 132: 107-120

Perea R, Venturas MD, Gil L (2013) Empty seeds are not always bad: Simultaneous effect of seed emptiness and masting on animal seed predation. Plos One 8(6): e65573

2010

López de Heredia U, Venturas MD, López R, Gil L (2010) High biogeographical and evolutionary value of Canary Island pine populations out of the elevational pine belt: the case of a relict coastal population. Journal of Biogeography 37: 2371-2383

Get In Touch

Please feel free to contact me if you would like to know more about my research or for discussing collaboration oportunities.