Archive for February, 2010

Spain’s Budget Neglects Research

February 27th, 2010 No comments

RESEARCH AND INNOVATION ARE CRUCIAL for the development and well-being of society. Now, in times of economic downturn, the urgency of changing the economic model to provide sustainable growth has become apparent. However, investment in R&D is the first collateral damage in the Spanish national budget, and many regional governments have also cut spending; all this in spite of the fact that Spain only dedicates 1.35% of its gross national product to R&D (1). These cuts will deeply affect aspiring researchers; researchers with temporary contracts will find that, after years of work and training, their contracts may not be renewed.

R&D has been completely neglected in the recent special anti-crisis measures, referred to as “Plan-E” (2), even though funds dedicated to science and its infrastructure would have met the same goals and been profitable in subsequent years. A training program for future researchers and technicians would have provided opportunities for laid-off workers from other sectors. It would also have been an excellent time to promote R&D in the private sector.

Unfortunately, the Spanish science system also has endemic deficits, such as continuous changes in management personnel and structure; lack of a fixed calendar of calls; bureaucratic delays; arbitrariness in the selection, promotion, and stabilization of personnel; and paralysis of necessary legislative initiatives.

We believe that it is time to demand a binding, long-term commitment from all parties to equip the Spanish science system with stability and prestige; a real increase in funding for R&D, so that spending first equals and then exceeds the European average; and rational planning to support the different stages of scientific careers.

The authors of this Letter have written a manifesto (3), summarized here, that has the support of many scientific groups. We believe that the moment has arrived for the scientific community to join forces. Learn more about our mission at

1. Instituto Nacional de Estadística, Notas de Prensa (2009);
2. Gobierno de España, “¿Qué es el Plan E?” Plan Español para el Estímulo de la Economía y el Empleo;
3. Plataforma por la Investigación, “Research is an investment in the future”; Manifesto: in Spanishin English

By: Xosé Afonso Álvarez, Noemí Cabrera-Poch, Aana Canda-Sánchez, Carlos Fenollosa, Elena Piñero, Mark J. van Raaij, Eva Sánchez Cobos, Ignacio Segura Pérez, Francisco J. Tapiador, Ana M. Torrado Agrasar

Reproduced from Science (327:1078-1079, 26 Feb 2010) without asking permission.

Heat and smoke as germination cues in the Mediterranean flora

February 25th, 2010 No comments

Until now, the role of fire as a germination cue for Mediterranean Basin plants was unclear. The idea was that heat stimulates germination mainly in Cistaceae and Fabaceae and that smoke had a limited role as a post-fire germination cue, in comparison to other Mediterranean Type Ecosystems (MTE), suggesting that fire-stimulated germination is less relevant in the Mediterranean Basin than in other Mediterranean regions. However, in a recent paper, Moreira et al. (2010) demonstrate that both heat and smoke stimulates the germination (both amount and rate) of a range of woody species from the Mediterranean Basin flora. In addition, some species also showed enhanced seedling growth after the smoke treatment (Figure below). All these results suggest that fire-cued germination in woody plants of Mediterranean Basin may be as important as in other Mediterranean regions, and that fire had a strong role in shaping the Mediterranean species.

Moreira B., Tormo J., Estrelles E., Pausas J.G. 2010. Disentangling the role of heat and smoke as germination cues in Mediterranean Basin flora. Annals of Botany 105: 627-635. [pdf | doi]


Differences in size between seedlings from untreated (control, left) and treated seeds (smoke, right), for Lavandula latifolia (8 days after seedling emergence). The white squares are of 2.5cm width.

Holocene fire activity

February 13th, 2010 No comments

Fire regimes and vegetation patterns are the product of both climate and humans (Marlon et al. 2008, Pausas & Keeley 2009). For instance, contemporary ignitions are very often linked to human behaviour (arson, negligence, etc.) and fire sizes may be related to landscape fragmentation and suppression efforts; however, the climatic signal on fire regimes is still evident (e.g,. dry summers, Pausas 2004; during heat waves, etc.). A recent paper documents this complex interaction in shaping Holocene fire regimes in the Mediterranean Basin: Climate, microclimate (topography) and human pressure are factors that need to be considered for understanding changes in both vegetation and fire activity during the Holocene of south Europe (Gil-Romera et al. 2010).

  • Marlon et al. 2008. Climate and human influences on global biomass burning over the past two millennia. Nature Geoscience, 1, 697-702.
  • Pausas J.G. 2004. Changes in fire and climate in the eastern Iberian Peninsula (Mediterranean basin). Climatic Change, 63, 337-350. [doi | pdf]
  • Pausas J.G. & Keeley J.E. 2009. A burning story: The role of fire in the history of life. BioScience, 59, 593-601. [doi | pdf]
  • Gil-Romera et al. 2010. Fire regime in Southern Iberia: the long-term role of fire as landscape modeller in a western Mediterranean region. Quat. Sci. Rev. 29: 1082-1092. [doi | pdf]

Age (cal Kyr BP)

Figure: Synthetic pollen percentage diagrams for Baza mountains (1900 m asl, Southeastern Spain), with the Normalised Charcoal (NCHAR, right) and millennial averaged Fire Activity Anomalies (FAA, left) shown on top. (XER: xerophytes, MES: Mesophytes, Querdec: Deciduous oaks, Querever: Evergreen oaks, Pining: Pinus nigra + P. sylvestris). The increase of fire activity is assotiated to the decrease of Pinus nigra (non-serotinous thin-barked pines) and the increase of Poaceae and xerophytes. For mode details see Gil-Romera et al. (2010).