Santiago David

Paramo bird communities: Understanding a poorly known Andean ecosystem under increasing risk of extinction

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

I came to Canada from Colombia, one of the most diverse corners of the world, where I completed my undergraduate program at the Universidad de Antioquia. Growing up in this region, at the intersection of coffee culture and Andean montane forest, inspired me to develop a career in the study of biodiversity and conservation. I consider graduate school as a unique opportunity to participate in learning experiences and to work with outstanding scientists and collaborators in multiple academic and non-academic activities, thus it was critical to me and my future goals to pursue a graduate degree.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

The broad range of faculty, graduate and post-graduate students who are part of the department of Zoology and Biodiversity Research Centre are one of the most outstanding in the world and are broadly recognized for their research excellence and expertise. In this department, I have the direct opportunity to collaborate with researchers that are world leaders in areas in which I will develop my future projects, giving me an exceptional research environment for my PhD. Both, UBC and BRC offer multiple local and international collaboration and training opportunities, as well as excellent facilities to enhance my potential as a scientist and community leader.

What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?

Vancouver is an amazingly beautiful city! To be honest, when I first came to Canada in 2013 to start a Masters program I did not know a lot about Vancouver; I really wanted to start my graduate education abroad and my potential supervisor at the time turned out to be here. Very soon I discovered this is one of the best places (and universities) in the world to study, live, explore, learn, enjoy, thrive!

What aspect of your graduate program do you enjoy the most or are looking forward to with the greatest curiosity?

The fieldwork portion of my projects! I truly think that being in the field is a transformational experience. You never get bored in the field, and there is always a new idea, a new question that arises when you are observing the natural world and natural history of species. Also it is in the field when I can observe and realize the many problems and crisis our biodiversity is facing.

What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?

I love biking, either commuting or for long rides. I also love all outdoorsy activities and sports, Vancouver happens to have everything, the beach for playing volleyball during the summer, the mountains for hiking or hilly bike rides, the ocean and lakes for kayaking or swimming, parks for running, and also for birding and taking photographs.

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

Be nice! Trust yourselves! There might be many ups and downs in grad school, but it is very important to keep calm and not to get frustrated. Also take breaks when you need them. Make plans for your different goals, but do not stick to them 100%. Life does not care about plans and eventually you will have to adapt and keep going.


Learn more about Santiago's research

Tropical mountains harbour exceptionally high biodiversity with most species restricted to narrow elevational distributions. Deforestation and climate change negatively impact ranges of montane tropical birds, with upslope shifts as the main elevational response to warming temperatures. These two pressures are particularly important for species restricted to mountaintops, such as in Paramos, where abiotic conditions are harsher and upslope movements are limited. Paramo is a diverse and poorly known high elevation ecosystem in the Andean region that provides invaluable ecosystem services to human populations. Paramos serve as the main source of water for many Andean cities and are under growing threat from deforestation, mining activities and climate change. Bird species restricted to this ecosystem could face an unprecedented crisis due to the combined effects of climate change and local fragmentation, and our ability to predict community responses to these pressures depends on detailed knowledge of the Paramo ecosystem. My research will combine field data and experiments with information on species distributions and phylogenetic relationships to (1) characterize the composition and biogeographic history of Paramo bird communities, (2) evaluate physiological adaptations of Paramo species to harsh environmental conditions, and (3) identify behavioral responses of Paramo birds to potential competitors and predators under predicted upslope expansions of lower elevational species. This information will have important conservation implications globally by providing critical information on responses of high elevation species to climate change, and in Colombia, by identifying areas and strategies for conserving biodiversity