Postdoctoral researcher at the Museum für Naturkunde - Leibniz Institute for Research on Evolution and Biodiversity (Berlin, Germany). Sara Varela always wanted to be a biologist (at least since somebody told her that this was the name of the job), and as a child she collected shells, feathers, leaves and rocks. She had a nice pile of labelled biscuit boxes and a photo album with her own herbarium. Her heroes at that time were Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente and Gerald Durrell. Then, she grew up with the fierce intention of saving both the whales and the Amazon, and maybe the gorillas too.
*Click on the name to know more about her work on ResearchGate
In her tenacious mission to defend the world, she started her career investigating the role of past climate changes on Pleistocene mammal extinction events, aiming to understand why we do not have spotted hyenas in Europe anymore. She developed her PhD in the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales (CSIC) of Spain with Dr. Jorge M. Lobo, and found out that the extinction of this large carnivore was not likely related to past climatic changes. In those early years, she participated in excavations like Atapuerca (Spain), Dmanisi (Georgia) and El Caño (Uruguay).
Since she finished her PhD, Dr Varela has worked for 5 research institutions in Spain, Czech Republic, Brazil and Germany. In her path to understand the hyena’s extinction she explored foodwebs as a new method to incorporate biotic interactions into the discussion. Her programming skills also allowed her to help students to develop their own Species Distribution Models. She taught R programming, statistics, ecological modelling and GIS for ecologists in Europe and South America, and as a result, she developed collaborations with a nice group of pre and postdocs.
Dr Varela is concerned about how to work with big data in ecology, and in order to help herself and other researchers to use large open access biodiversity databases she programmed two R packages, rAvis and paleobioDB. Further, she started ecoClimate.org, a project with Matheus Lima Ribeiro and Carina Terribile (UFG-Brazil) to make an easy-to-use climatic database to work on global change ecology. Currently, Dr Varela is working to set up her own research group to investigate paleobiogeographic dynamics in deep time, and save some gorillas.