I am a postdoctoral fellow funded through a competitive grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation and working under the supervision of Jana Petermann and Britta Tietjen. We are exploring the community of protists in bromeliads with the goal of providing a mechanistic framework (i.e.: a model) to explain the dynamic of these microbial communities in relation to environmental variables. In particular, we want to know if it is possible to predict the long-term success or failure of these small ecosystems as a function of 1) the size and nutrient content of the bromeliad; 2) the presence of mosquito larvae, top-predator in these communities. A model that manages to explain the interactions between a migrating predator –the mosquito- and the different communities it feasts upon, would open the possibility of model-based environmental policies.
I accomplished my PhD under the supervision of Lindsay Turnbull and Drew Purves at the University of Zürich with a Microsoft Research grant. We developed a plant growth model for annual plants that is meant to be simple, flexible and easy to fit to data. For that, I used mathematical tools, computer programming and image-processing software (as well as my poor plant-growing skills) to feed a Bayesian inference engine developed by Microsoft called Filzbach. The model has so far been fitted to data collected on a series of well-known ecotypes and mutants of Arabidopsis thaliana.
I graduated from the University of Lille, France, where the lab was very evolution focused and completed my Master’s thesis in the CEFE in Montpellier which is more ecology focused. The Master’s thesis was entitled “Evolution of phenotypic plasticity in selfing in Angiosperms” and its goal was to produce a theoretical model that would explain the evolution of cleistogamous plants, which propagate themselves with non-opening, self-pollinating flowers. Such species represent an evolutionary conundrum as they appear to pay the cost of reproduction without apparently reaping any benefits.
I am in awe of the incredible capacity of Life to hold everything together so neatly, and equally amazed by the possibility for us humans to catch and describe its inner workings through the use of simple concepts that can further be put down in equations. I wonder how far it is possible to go to explain how life works and which amazing things we’ll be able to achieve with this knowledge.