A day like today in 2005 I joined Rey Juan Carlos University (URJC) as a "Ramón y Cajal" Research Fellow, so today marks the 10th anniversary of the lab as an independent research group within our department (well, at the beginning the lab was just me but soon after I joined URJC the first cohort of undergraduate and PhD students started working in the lab).
Many memories come to my mind in a day like today, and I would certainly like to write a long post to summarize what we have done over these ten years, which have been really intense and enjoyable, and to properly acknowledge everyone that has helped to made it possible. But these days are really hectic for me, as I am in the peak of my teaching semester and have multiple tasks to do, so I will just write a few words to mark this celebration in our blog. The first thing I would like to say is thanks! Thanks to the technicians, undergraduate/master/graduate students, post-docs and visitors of the lab for all their hard work and enthusiasm (doing science is a wonderful adventure, doing science with this group of people is just priceless), to all my colleagues and collaborators (both from the URJC and from many other institutions) that have worked with me over the years, to the URJC for providing us with the infraestructure needed to carry out our work sucesfully, to all the colleagues that have used, commented, critiziced and/or are inspired by our research and last, but not least, to all the organizations/funding agencies that have supported our work over these years (mainly the British Ecological Society, the BBVA Foundation, the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness and the European Research Council).
A memorable moment was without doubts our field trip to Morocco to survey sites for the BIOCOM project, which included an exciting (and scary!) visit to the Friouato caves.
These ten years have been packed with hard work, memorable moments, successes (and a few failures too) and, above all, had been great fun. We have done many things over this period, and is certainly difficult to pick up one or a few to comment here. If I could choose something I am particularly proud of what I we have done over these 10 years, I would certainly choose the people I have trained and watching them grow personally and as scientists. Being able to work with such a fantastic group of people has been (and is right now) a privilege and I am really proud to see how many of them can make things I could only dream of at the stage they are in their careers. If we talk about other research outcomes, I would choose the development of the EPES-BIOCOM network, which is the first global network of field sites aiming to evaluate the relationships between abiotic factors, ecosystem structure and multifunctionality in drylands (see here, here, here and here for some examples of what we have done with the data gathered within this network). Right now this network is formed by 236 sites sampled in drylands from all the continents except Antarctica, and involves the work of more than 60 scientists from 20 different countries. I have particularly enjoyed developing this network and analyzing/publishing the large amount of data we have gathered, which are yielding important insights about the ecology of drylands and how they are responding to ongoing global environmental change. I have in mind writting a post about how this network was created and maintained, as this would scape the scope of this post (and the time I have for writting it).
The first "official" lab picture, back in May 2008. From left to right: María D. Puche, Andrea Castillo, Cristina Escolar, Fernando Maestre, Santiago Soliveres, Pablo García y Matthew Bowker.
Overall I am very satisfied with what we have done as a research group over this period, and are looking forward to many more years of doing exciting science and, perhaps more importantly, of enjoying doing it. We have not been able to celebrate this day properly today, as I had to teach and several lab members are setting up a new experiment, but we will do a proper celebration in the next days, and will add more posts about our recent and past research over the next months. There is also a new webpage in the making, some very cool papers in the pipeline, more lab members to come in the next months, and a new large project to start soon, so stay tuned!
I knew that I got the Consolidator Grant BIODESERT at the same time we were making measurements in one of our experiments, so we had to finish them first before going to celebrate it. Science does not stop!