Fulbright Award supports study of Canary Islands’ unique climate-ocean-vegetation dynamics
Professor Franco Biondi has received a Fulbright Senior Scholar international award for Spain to study climate variability and its impact on biodiversity and vegetation in Spain’s Canary Islands. At the southernmost tip of Europe, this group of seven inhabited islands in the Atlantic Ocean is an ideal natural laboratory due to the intersection of ocean currents, air currents and the complex topography of the landscape.
“I will use long-term climate data sets (from the early 1900s) to further investigate how vegetation dynamics respond to changes in the atmosphere and ocean over multiple time scales, to help better prepare for potential impacts of climate change,” Biondi said. . “In addition to being a tourist mecca, the Canary Islands are located at the intersection of several major atmospheric and oceanic systems. This area is so special that the Canary Islands, which make up about 1.5% of Spain’s total territory, are home to about 50% of all plant species found naturally in Spain alone.
Biondi, in the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources, is a tree biologist with a background in hydroclimatology and a specialty in dendroecology, which is the study of tree rings and wood formation to infer environmental changes. He will provide data analysis expertise and knowledge of plant/climate interaction to a Spanish team that plans to analyze landscape genetics and its links to ocean-atmosphere interactions and their climate impact on vegetation.
The oceanic and atmospheric currents that collide across the Canary Islands are the Hadley Circulation (including the Trade Winds), the North Atlantic Gyre (including the Canary Current), the North Atlantic Oscillation, the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation and the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation.
“It’s a natural laboratory to examine these forces because islands are at the center of these features and have a huge range of topography, from desert to tree line,” he said. “This is a bit like the Great Basin of Nevada, where the sharp differences from valleys to mountaintops generate incredible biodiversity, which is the reason for the endemic species of the Canary Islands, some of which are still being discovered.”
Several Canary Island endemic species are now established in many places around the globe, such as the dragon tree and canary palms, which can also be found in places like Tucson, Arizona, where Biondi lived as a graduate student in the US.
“It has very interesting vegetation to say the least,” he said. “For example, there are uncharacteristically small but ancient juniper trees in the Canary Islands found among the rocks—as we also see around Lake Tahoe, where the trees seem to grow out of the rocks, using the soil in the cracks—and these 1,000 – the annual junipers in the Canary Islands have recently been discovered.
Biondi’s 30 years of research experience includes domestic and international collaborations with scientists in Canada, Germany, France, Finland, Switzerland and Italy. For his international work this year, and in conjunction with his sabbatical during the upcoming spring semester, Biondi received a 2023 Fulbright U.S. Senior Scholar Award from the Commission on Cultural, Educational, and Scientific Exchange between the U.S.- of and Spain and Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain. He will collaborate on several scientific endeavors with researchers at the Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, where he will stay until May 2023.
With the University of Nevada, Reno’s mission to have a “transformative global impact,” its activities may allow the University’s future international student exchanges, teaching, and collaborative scholarly efforts, also a goal of the Fulbright Program.
“From the exchange of ideas and collaborative activities already planned, I fully expect that new projects will be generated, which will promote the research and teaching missions of the University”, said Biondi.
Biondi is a professor in the college’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Science, whose research is supported in part by the University’s Experiment Station. He teaches two undergraduate classes, Mountain Ecoclimatology and Natural Resource Ecology, and will soon offer a graduate course on Autocorrelation in Space and Time, which will introduce applied statistical modeling concepts for both prediction and explanation. , especially as it relates to environmental science and as a tool for investigating natural phenomena.
Biondi received a laurea (Italian doctorate) in forestry from the Università di Firenze in 1985, and came to the US that same year on a Fulbright scholarship. He earned a doctorate in watershed management and geosciences from the University of Arizona, Tucson in 1994, and then moved to La Jolla, California, to work as a project scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California-San Diego. where he reconstructed past climate using representative data from terrestrial tree rings and oceanic sediments. He has been at the University of Nevada, Reno since 2000, and from 2008 to 2013 he was the statewide lead for the Ecological Change component of an NSF-EPSCoR project entitled “Nevada’s Infrastructure for Science, Education, and Dissemination of Climate Change”, which was funded for a total of 15 million dollars. As part of the research infrastructure funded by this large, multi-investigator project, the Nevada Climate-Ecohydrological Assessment Network was established.