As an environmental engineer with a PhD in information technology, I am deeply interested in the analysis of ecological and environmental processes by means of quantitative tools. My research activity is mainly devoted to the study of spatiotemporal dynamics in ecology and epidemiology by means of simple (whenever possible) yet rigorous mechanistic models. Over the last years I have become more and more involved in the emerging field of ecohydrology, an interdisciplinary discipline aimed at studying the interactions between water and ecosystems.
Examples of problems I have recently analyzed — or I am still struggling with — are: the persistence of metapopulations in river networks; the dynamics of waterborne disease epidemics (cholera and schistosomiasis in particular) and the role of human mobility in promoting their spatial diffusion; the population dynamics of freshwater invasive species and their spread over hydrological networks; the interaction between hydrodynamics and the ecology of species with pelagic developmental stages by means of computationally intensive simulations; the biodiversity patterns of complex, spatially explicit environments; the influence of seed foragers’ movement strategies on the formation of vegetation patterns.
In addition to scientific relevance, some of these topics have clear social and/or economic implications. This is the case, for instance, of building models for cholera epidemics (like the one that stroke Haiti in 2010 and has been responsible for more than 750,000 cases and 9,000 casualties to date) or parasitic infections (like schistosomisis, which affects more than 250 million people worldwide, especially in developing countries), as well as for the spread of alien invasive species (like the zebra mussel, which has been spreading in North American freshwaters for the past 25 years causing huge ecological and economic impacts). Mathematical models of disease ecology and biological invasions are key tools to understand drivers and controls of their spread, and to design effective control measures.
Current research and perspectives
I am currently working on coupled physical-biological models to study the dispersal patterns of pelagic species in the Mediterranean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. Aim of the research is to understand the large-scale implications of connectivity for population ecology, conservation and management. I also continue working on waterborne disease dynamics. In particular, I am interested in the definition of formal conditions for pathogen epidemicity and endemicity, explicitly accounting for realistic environmental settings and for the interplay between epidemiological and ecological dynamics. The modeling tools developed for these two research lines (namely, computationally intensive individual-based simulations and stability analysis of large-scale spatially explicit systems) can be applied to a variety of problems that are crucial to conservation ecology like, for instance, the definition of persistence criteria for populations living in fragmented landscapes, dendritic networks or webs of marine protected areas, or the derivation of invasibility/persistence conditions for alien species or agricultural pests.