My goal with this project is to better describe the diversity of the different communities in these plants using cutting edge molecular methods. By knowing the identity of the species present at different geographic scales (in the plant, between plants, and at the continental scale), and confronting it to variations in species intercations, I will be able to better understand how the environment shapes species interactions, and use this new knowledge to predict the reaction of other ecosystems to global changes.
Microbes may not be the most exciting organisms. But because they are so small, and present all over the world, they truly are a living, natural laboratory experiment. Describing species interactions in larger animals, or plants, is a daunting task. With microbes, it becomes possible to do it easily in the laboratory, which means more results, and a greater precision. The bacteria within pitcher plants are extremely important because they contribute a lot to ecosystem services in wetland. They help sustain the population of plants, which host different species of insect, themselves involved in pollination of other plant species. While this ecosystem may not be as impressive as the African savannah, or the Amazonian rainforest, it's truly amazing to the eyes of ecologists. Yes it's only microbes, but in the end, they may help us understand how other ecosystems react. And because the microbes living in pitcher plants are so exciting, complex, and important, we want to describe them with the most accurate method available.
Molecular methods are extremely powerful, but notorioulsy difficult to develop and apply. In a nutshell, we need to find conditions which will allow a small enzyme produce by bacteria to copy a given sequence of the genome of all organisms present. The challenging part is that we need to generate enough copies, for the sequencing machine to read. In short, I will have to test a lot of combination of reagents, and primers (small bits of DNA who will attach themselves to the beginning and end of the part of the genome we are interested in). Your donations will also contribute to better sampling gear, as we'll be working in a lot of different conditions to sample the pitcher plants.
Any excess funding will be given to wetland conservation initiatives — you can read more about why these are important ecosystems to preserve and restore.
We will produce a full description of the biodiversity within carnivorous plants at a large geographical scale. The variations in the identity of species presents at each location, and the interaction they are involved in, will help us predict how food webs cope with different environmental conditions, which is necessary to make hypotheses about how they will be able to maintain their services in a context of rapid global changes.
When I started my undergraduate studies in biology in 2003, I wanted to become a geneticist. I was fascinated by the quantity information stored in the seemingly small molecule of DNA. I spent a few months as an intern in the lab of a big pharmaceutical company, during which I realized that this was not what I had in mind. One time at the university library, I stumbled across a book writen by french zoologist Claude Combes, called Intimate interactions. During my reading, I became fascinated by species interactions, and their consequences for ecological and evolutionay processes. Wherever there is life, there is competition, predation, mutualism, and a lot more. These interactions are the backbone of the functioning of ecosystems, and it's important to understand and preserve them. This experince changed the orientation of my studies, and for my master degree, I worked on parasites of freshwater and marine fishes.
I navigated between ecological and evolutionary problems related to species interactions, and each new result was bringing new, exciting questions. It became clear to me that I wanted to do research in this topic. During my PhD in the group of Evolutionary Community Ecology at the Université de Montpellier 2, I developed a theory to understand how species come to interact, and how these interactions should be affected by the environment, and by other species. Because the subject is so complex, the approach we developed was somehow limited to a handful of species. I recently moved to the group of Theoretical Ecosystem Ecology at the Université du Québec à Rimouski and the Québec Centre for Biodiversity Sciences, where I apply my previous knowledge to complex systems. This research is fascinating, as I can integrate ecological, evolutionary, and geographical mechanisms to understand and predict why species interact. You can read more about what I do on my personal website.
Most of my research is theoretical, and I spend a lot more time at my computer doing simulations, or in the lab testing my theories with microbes, than I spend in the field. This project is important to me because it means I can finally apply the expertise I developed during my doctorate to a real world problem. This is the perfect feedback between theory and practice working together, as we'll be able to adress important hypotheses related to biogeography, but also to fuel the debate about how to best preserve ecosystems services in a changing world.