María Ariza


I am an ecologist with a background in evolution, biogeography, and conservation.

During my Bachelor in Biology at the University of San Carlos, Guatemala, I developed a strong curiosity towards species interactions. Mutualistic interactions such as pollination and seed dispersal called my attention when studying the structure and balance of rich communities. Having Guatemala and its plethora of ecosystems as natural laboratory led me to be amazed and inquisitive about biogeographical patterns. Therefore, in my bachelor thesis, I investigated the population structure of the stingless bee P. bilineata, a key native pollinator in the cloudy forest of Guatemala. For this study, I collaborated with Halle-Wittenberg University, Germany, where I gained different skills in population genetics and molecular ecology. Back in Guatemala, I spend one year in the remainders of a rainforest (Lachuá Eco-Region) placing artificial bat refugees in deforested sites to increase the seed rain and promote the natural regeneration of the forest. Being submerged in a biodiverse region with local Mayan communities sparked off my motivation for conservation and my passion for bat ecology. After completing my bachelor, I started a two years’ study-journey while doing an International Master in Applied Ecology. This journey took me around the globe, among many European universities and tropical and temperate ecosystems, while specializing in Ecosystem Analysis and Evolutionary Ecology. All my diverse background payed off in my master project when I investigated pepper plant-bat interactions in the Neotropics with a biogeographic scope. For this project, I collaborated with the Antonelli Lab at the University of Gothenburg where I gained bioinformatics skills for handling big data sets of DNA sequences and ecological factors in an evolutionary scheme.

Now for my PhD project with Plant.ID, I will put into work my bioinformatic and evolutionary competences for improving species delimitation and identification in plant biodiversity assessments. By using cutting-edge DNA techniques and Multispecies Coalescent Models (gene trees in species trees), I’ll create a framework of accurate species delimitation that can be used for taxon identification in soil and environmental DNA samples. Ultimately, this framework will contribute to the identification of plants in different Plant.ID projects and to the design of conservation efforts.