Ecohydrology to me, is the integration of ecology and hydrology. It is an effort to holistically study and understand the magic of the planet, which is contained in water (as Loren Eiseley wrote and I totally agree). I like to tell my students to think about ecohydrology as the study of the incredible journey of water molecules around and around the planet, through the atmosphere, as part of clouds and raindrops, through the soils, rocks, rivers, plants, oceans, etc., etc. …and how the journey of all the water molecules modify the paths that they take. As one of my hydrology professors told us, we need imagination to pursue the study of water… I´d like to add that we need double the imagination to pursue the study of both ecology and hydrology together. Personally, it also means a journey: from my home country Guatemala, to Amsterdam, Manaus, Mexico, Iowa, New Hampshire and, so far, back to Mexico.
What are your undergraduate and graduate degrees in?
My undergraduate degree is in Forest Engineering from the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala. I have a MSc degree in Hydrology with a specialization in Ecohydrology from the VU Universiteit Amsterdam. And, I have a PhD in Environmental and Earth Sciences from the University of New Hampshire (but I did two years of the Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology PhD program in Iowa State University before my adviser – Heidi Asbjornsen- moved to UNH).
How did you arrive at working in/thinking about ecohydrology?
After I graduated, I worked at the Sierra de las Minas Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala, on a project setting a water fund to involve different water users and stakeholders in upstream cloud forest conservation. Reading as much as I could about the forest-water links for this work, it became obvious that not a lot was known about the hydrology of tropical montane ecosystems. I don’t remember exactly how, but I came across the research that L.A. (Sampurno) Bruijnzeel´s group and collaborators were conducting in a Costa Rican cloud forest. It took a couple of emails to get me completely hooked on the idea of pursuing a MSc degree in Ecohydrology. I was fortunate to be part of one of the best hydrology graduate programs, having such great professors who not only taught theory in the classroom, but also application and techniques in the field. The faculty had super interesting projects in many places, so I was fortunate to go to Manaus for my master´s thesis field work (supervised by Sampurno Bruijnzeel and Maarten Waterloo). I helped out a doctorate student (Fabricio Zanchi) who´s project was hosted at LBA, so I was able to climb flux towers in the rain forest and wonder about the magnitude of the forest´s water flux towards the atmosphere. My thesis was on evapotranspiration estimates of an Amazonian heath forest (Campina)… which is out of this world by the way…how do these trees manage to live out of white sand?!
After that adventure I was invited to join a multidisciplinary team in Mexico to study cloud forest ecohydrology, as a doctorate student under the direction of Heidi Asbjornsen. I was joining a dream team, and back then I was not fully aware of this. Other PIs were Todd Dawson, Jeff McDonnell, and Sampurno Bruijnzeel. Friso Holwerda and Lyssette Muñoz-Villers were postdocs, and Greg Goldsmith was the other doctorate student. Many others were also involved, and I feel completely humble and honored, as I think back, to have been part of many discussions and to learn from these brilliant scientists. The two-water worlds hypothesis was in the making, for example. This project was the beginning of a long friendship and work collaboration among us. After I finished grad school, I came back to Mexico for a postdoc with Friso Holwerda, who was already at UNAM. Thanks to all these opportunities, I was able to set roots here. Now I am living the dream in Xalapa (lower montane cloud forest and coffee plantations altitude): working towards developing my research interests, collaborating on diverse projects, and teaching ecohydrology at the graduate level.
What do you see as an important emerging area of ecohydrology?
The hydrological functioning of ecosystems has been always a big area of ecohydrology, so emerging from that, I think questions about water redistribution and complementary/competitive water use of coexisting plants are still interesting and much is still unknown. I just recently came across, and started to be involved with, questions about the distribution of water among plants that create inter- and intraspecific root networks, such as mangrove species. These interactions are quite interesting and long-standing questions of ecology arise, such as mutualism in the face of very hostile environments. All the research stemming from the two-water world hypothesis is still a fruitful area of ecohydrology. Particularly interesting, but also very important for sustainable land management, are questions about complementary water (and nutrients) use of coexisting plants in biodiverse agroecosystems. The more is known on how different crops interact with other plants to the extent of sharing limited below-ground resources, the more we can contribute to agroforestry planning and increasing biodiversity in agroecosystems while maintaining productivity of food and other goods.
Another important area of ecohydrology has always been the land use change effects on hydrology and climate, which requires thinking not only on biophysical systems but on socio-ecosystems. Particularly and currently interesting to me, are the developments on how disruptions to hydrological connectivity in coastal ecosystems have impaired their functions leading even to mortality (like for mangroves), and how restoration of hydrological connectivity can be effective to restore vegetation in massively degraded zones. Also, as more and more measurements of land surface-atmosphere interactions are done and synthesized from tropical and coastal ecosystems (which are still under-represented in global measurements), fascinating things will be learned to fill gaps needed to validate models related to carbon allocation, carbon and water fluxes and the role of vegetation on modulating the climate at different scales.
After teaching ecohydrology to graduate students with different areas of specialization in ecology (some unrelated to ecohydrology), students mentioned, to my surprise, that the most interesting thing they learned was that vegetation was not only shaped by the environment, but that in fact, vegetation was very much involved in shaping the environment. So, I think that we have a lot more work to do in the realm of science outreach, not only to the general public, but also among other disciplines.
Do you have a favorite ecohydrology paper? Describe/explain.
This is a hard one. I have always admired how my professors write, so I am a bit biased to have their work as some of my favorites. I have a couple of favorite books, and on top of the list is “Forests, water and people in the Humid Tropics” edited by Mike Bonell and L.A. (Sampurno) Bruijnzeel. They did such a great and complete work. It is a compendium of a lot of aspects of the hydrological functioning of tropical forests and the hydrological impacts of land use change. The book is not only technical aspects but also reviews complex societal/political issues in the tropics. There has been a lot of advancement on the knowledge of ecohydrology of tropical forests since the book was out, but it is still largely relevant.
What do you do for fun (apart from ecohydrology)?
I have a four-year old, so everyday I get to play with whatever is exciting to him (mostly involving superheroes, rescue team, riding a bike downhill), reading to him, and trying to come up with answers to some really intriguing questions on how everything works or what does something mean. I also enjoy trekking around nearby towns and parks with my family.