I am interested in the formation of the soil habitat at small spatial scales and its effect on biotic interactions and soil functioning. I am adopting an interdisciplinary approach, merging soil physics and soil ecology, with a focus on soil structure. I am considering a wide diversity of soil biota, including plant roots, microbes, microfauna and mesofauna, and their interactions. Using both field and laboratory approaches, my research aims at unravelling fine scale “eco-physico-chemical” processes in soil, thereby facilitating the development of ecological engineering strategies to restore degraded soils.
BACKGROUND AND MAIN RESEARCH AXES
The soil is such a complex and fascinating habitat! This is not dirt, rather a maze full of life. The way soil organisms move, interact and feed in this belowground maze is crucial for soil functioning, such as carbon storage and nutrient recycling. Most soil organisms face restrictions in mobility, strongly constrained by soil structure, limiting potential interactions. The soil structure is highly heterogeneous and dynamic, making it tricky to investigate. Tools to quantitatively describe soil structure in two or three dimensions across scales and possibilities to manipulate soil physical parameters for experimental purposes with living organisms are only yet being developed. Soil microbial ecologists partnering with soil physicists have pioneered this field and their work opens novel possibilities to the entire community of soil ecologists. I am enthusiastically grabbing this opportunity and aim at deciphering the complex interplay between soil organisms and soil structure. Three main research axes are guiding my work.
1. Root functional ecology
Acquisition of resources belowground is special, with multiple and heterogeneous resources to be acquired in a complex habitat. Within this context, a plant-based approach has often been preferred by root functional ecologists. My research followed this approach and contributed to decipher variations in strategies for resource acquisition belowground, mainly at the community level (mean and distribution of trait values). I am now moving from this plant-centered approach by integrating root functional ecology, soil microbial and animal ecology, and soil physics. This will enable to better link ecological strategies for belowground resource acquisition to the characteristics of the soil habitat where these resources are acquired.
2. Effect of soil biota on soil structure
The physical structure of soil is the backbone of the soil habitat and is constantly remodeled by a combination of abiotic and biotic factors. I am interested in understanding the biotic drivers of soil structure. I am focusing on investigating the role of plant roots (morphological traits and mucilage), microbes and microbial consumers (protists and microarthropods) in the formation and stabilization of soil aggregates. Importantly, I am including interactions among these drivers, i.e. soil and root parameters or the interaction between soil organisms, notably trophic interactions. I use a combination of laboratory and field approaches, and my work is expected to facilitate the development of ecological engineering strategies to restore soil structure.
3. Role of the soil (micro)-habitat on biotic interactions
I aim to decipher how the habitat characteristics at small spatial scale (pore geometry, water distribution, etc.) impact interactions between soil organisms, with a particular focus on trophic interactions. I investigate main aspects of the soil habitat determining the sensing and accessibility of food resources, such as size segregation, connectivity of the pore space and water distribution. Hitherto, I have compiled information from previous research to set the conceptual basis of a novel field merging soil physics and soil food web ecology. I am also developing experimental approaches in microcosms with reconstructed trophic interactions and controlled soil physical properties. I mainly focus on soil organisms unable to drill pores themselves, such as microbes, protists, nematodes and microarthropds.
INTERDISCIPLINARY LANDSCAPE AND OVERALL APPROACH
I am developing an interdisciplinary approach merging root ecology, soil (food web) ecology and soil physics. I use a wide range of methods from these three fields collaborating with soil physicists. I am adopting a holistic approach, considering the physical, chemical and ecological aspects of soil functioning and aim at a functional and quantitative understanding of mechanisms at fine spatial scales. My research spans from fundamental works in the lab to field work and is related to soil restoration and ecological engineering including a variety of stakeholders.
Figure 1: Schematic representation of the main concepts and methods used and developed in my research activities
EDUCATION AND RESEARCH EXPERIENCE
2017-2020 - Marie Curie Postdoctoral fellow (PI) (24 months – extended period due to parental leave) - Univ. Göttingen, Germany
Project: Let restore our soils: using the soil food web to engineer the soil structure and functioning
Main collaborators: Prof. Dr. Stefan Scheu; Prof. Dr. Matthias Rillig; Prof. Dr. Andrea Carminati
2013-2017 Scientific and administrative project manager (36 months – extended period due to parental leave) – INRA, UMR AMAP, Montpellier, France
Project: Dynamics of the plant-soil interactions along a chronosequence on roadside slopes in the Mediterranean region
Main collaborators: Dr. Alexia Stokes; Dr. Francois Munoz; Dr. Catherine Roumet
2010-2013 PhD in Plant-Soil ecology (38 months) - Univ. Grenoble Alpes & IRSTEA, Grenoble, France
Thesis title: In situ interaction between plant functional traits composition and soil properties in Mediterranean Badlands ecosystems undergoing ecological restoration
Supervisors: Dr. Freddy Rey and Dr. Lauric Cecillon
2008-2010 MBA in Environmental sciences and Policies - AgroParisTech, (ENGREF) Paris, France. (Co-validation of a MSc in Ecology, Paris Sud Univ.)
2006-2008 MSc degree in Biology - Ecole Normale Supérieure, Lyon, France (Elève normalienne).
Career breaks – Maternal and parental leave: total of 1 year and 8 months (Children born in 2014 and 2017) and work with full-time child care responsibility from March to August 2020 (Covid-19).
Soil ecology; Plant roots; Soil biodiversity; Microbes; Microfauna; Mesofauna; Trait-based approach; Soil food web; Soil physics; Soil structure; Soil habitat; Soil erosion; Ecological engineering