Understanding biodiversity and observing its evolution

Irstea is carrying out research to better understand the state of biodiversity and its evolution in aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. How is it evolving and with what results? Christine Argillier, Deputy Scientific Director of the Water Department at Irstea presents her view of the situation.

What are the major challenges and targets for biodiversity research?

Christine Argillier: Biodiversity is an extremely complex system, and much remains to be discovered. The main aim of this research is to be able to describe it better, to understand the structure of the system and its dynamics in a changing environment in order to predict its future and protect it if necessary. This field is closely linked to global climate change, as these changes have a significant, if often difficult to predict, impact on living organisms.

Additionally, the social aspects of biodiversity research are increasingly important. Many questions are emerging on the role of biodiversity and the services it provides to humans, known as ecosystem services. As the link between biodiversity, ecosystem operation and ecosystem services is not always clear, many scientists are focusing on this subject.
By pursuing work across several disciplines and for a variety of study subjects and then sharing our results, we can reach an overall understanding of the way in which biodiversity is organized and achieve our primary goal.

What does Irstea specifically bring to this field?

Christine Argillier: The Irstea teams focusing on biodiversity are characterized by their interdisciplinary nature, with ecotoxicologists, hydrologists, ecologists, sociologists, economists and modelers all working together. This allows each team to develop a global view of the issues and have access to a wide range of skills to approach them.

Irstea also works in close partnership with field stakeholders to help them with management. In this way, scientists can look into any questions raised by managers, who in turn benefit more easily from research results. This dialogue makes it possible to adjust projects in real time. Some projects led by Irstea are designed with and for managers, and have a direct and specific impact on biodiversity management.

Could you give us some examples of typical projects focusing on monitoring biodiversity? Could you also explain how the results obtained/expected will help improve management processes?

Christine Argillier: Irstea takes on a variety of topics related to biodiversity within its Water and Land Use departments so I can only give you a few examples. In the Water department, projects pertaining to the conservation of migratory fish (particularly sturgeons) are probably the most typical and publicized. Nevertheless, the Institute is also leading the way in the study of how organisms function and interact within intermittent rivers, a generally poorly studied environment. In the Land Use department, Irstea is known for its significant work in forest biodiversity, including its indicators, dynamics and the compromise between biodiversity, function and services. Its projects focusing on environmental mitigation are particularly innovative, unique and eagerly awaited by our institutional partners.

Irstea has a culture of targeted research. Most of our biodiversity research starts in relation to a public policy and/or in partnership with local or regional managers. This helps us to develop various operational tools, such as practical guides, recommendations or models that can be used to integrate research results easily into their management practices.