I have developed two main lines of research throughout my career:
1. Biomechanical study of the factors involved in the stem straightness of Pinus pinaster: Application to the early selection in breeding programs, and 2. Conservation of genetic resources of native Populus.
This duality reflects a personal interest in the genetic improvement and conservation, and the desire to develop a diverse research activity in the areas where I teach (undergraduate, master and doctorate). In both lines of work I have conducted research projects funded by national and regional goverments in competitive calls and I have tutored more than 80 Bachelor Thesis and Masters Thesis on these issues.
In the line of genetic improvement, I have focused on a character of great complexity and great economic importance, the stem straightness, which greatly influences the quality of timber. I have explored the underlying biomechanical mechanisms implied in the straightening process comparing straight and crooked provenances of Pinus pinaster, a species widely known for its high intraspecific variability in stem form. I have identified the efficiency of compression wood to cause straightening of the inclined stems as the main trait in these processes. I am interested in deepening the potential of this trait as an early selection index of the stem straightness. I have collaborated with the company TRAGSA to evaluate the efficiency of straightening process in progenies from plus trees selected by them within the breeding program of Pinus pinaster in Galicia. I studied also the variability of the roots structure and the allocation of biomass between different parts of the plant when they are subjected to mechanical stress. Currently, I’m focusing on the functional and adaptive implications of stem straightening ability. The stem straighness is key for the mechanical stability of the tree and maintaining the straight position is a costly process implying differential allocation of resources. Therefore, considering the efficiency of the straightening mechanisms and its trade-offs with competing processes (such us growth, defences or reproduction) is central to understand the ‘adaptive’ phenotype in forest trees. My current project try to evaluate the trade-offs among traits related to resource allocation and the mechanisms implied in the straightening process.
Regarding the line of conservation of genetic resources, we explored the distribution and genetic diversity of native Populus in Castile and Leon, mainly P. tremula, alba and canescens. I coordinated research projects that led to elaborate a monograph on Populus tremula. I was also coordinator of a FEDER project that allowed to install a laboratory of in vitro culture, which I designed and I am responsable for, where a collection of genetic resources of P. tremula of our region is conserved. We have transferred a copy in vivo of the collection to the Junta de Castilla y León.
- Papel de la evolución de los fenotipos integrados en la resiliencia de los pinos mediterráneos en un ambiente cambiante (RESILPINE) Ministerio de Ciencia, Innovación y Universidades. PI:Jordi Voltas Velasco. 02/09/2019-04/09/2023.
- European-Vietnamese Higher Education Network for Sustainable Forest- and Bio-Economy (BIOECON). European Union (Erasmus+) . PI: Jan Peter Mund (HNEE). 15/10/2017- 15/10/2020. 799.545 €.
- Bases adaptativas para la gestión futura de los recursos genéticos de pinos mediterráneos (FUTURPIN). Ministerio de Ciencia, Innovación y Universidades. IP: José Climent (CIFOR-INIA, IuFOR). 01/01/2016-31/12/2019.
- Complejidad y sostenibilidad en los bosques mixtos, dinámica, selvicultura y herramientas de gestión adaptativa (MICINN) IP: Felipe Bravo.
- ACP-EU Co-operation Programme in Higher Education (EDULINK II): ‘STRENGTHENING AGROFORESTRY PROGRAMMES IN HIGHER EDUCATION FOR FOOD SECURITY IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA – SAPHE’ EuropeAid. Intra-ACP envelope of the 10th European Development & Budget Line 2011 21.06.02. 09/10/2013-09/10/2016
- AGL2007-62335, Identification of selection traits for the genetic improvement of stem straightness in Pinus pinaster Ait. MCIN-FEDER. PI: R. SIERRA DE GRADO. (University of Valladolid). 01/11/2007-31/03/2011.
- VA019A08, Ex situ conservation and base materials of Populus tremula L. and Populus x canescens (Ait.) Sm.. Junta de Castilla y León. PI: R. SIERRA DE GRADO. (University of Valladolid). 07/2008-12/2010.
- VA046A05. Ex situ conservation of Populus x canescens (Aiton) Sm Junta de Castilla y León. PI: R. SIERRA DE GRADO (University of Valladolid). Since: 16/6/2005 to: 31/12/2007.
- UNVA-E007. Laboratorio de cultivo in vitro y electroforesis de isoenzimas. FEDER. Infraestructures call. PI: R. SIERRA DE GRADO (University of Valladolid). 24/07/2003-15/09/2004.
- VA123/02. Clonal characterization and stand dynamics of Europan Aspen. Junta de Castillay León. PI: R. SIERRA DE GRADO (University of Valladolid). 2002-2004.
- AGF 97-0809, REctitud del tronco en Pinus pinaster Ait.: mejora genética y aplicación selvícola. Comisión Interministerial de Ciencia y Tecnología. PI: R. SIERRA DE GRADO. 1997- 2000.