Using Maths to understand Ecosystems: Timothée Poisot joins Real Scientists

The holiday season draws to a close and the first working week of the year begins, we bid a fond farewell to our holiday guest curators: Rachael Dunlop,  Helen Maynard-Caseley, Darren Saunders, David Winter and Peter Ireland. Huge thanks to all of our guest curators for the excellent tweets and company over such a busy time of the year.  We here at Real Scientists would like to wish all of the Real Scientists Community a fantastic 2015. We now leave Newcastle, Peter Ireland’s port of call, to head to wintry Montreal for our ned curator, Dr. Timothée Poisot (@tpoi) , Assistant Professor at the Université de Montréal, Québec, Canada.




On our small terrestrial planet, continents are covered by savannah, forests, deserts and many other ecosystems.  So much of the land is inhabited by all kinds of animals, insects, birds, humans, fungi – living things that are visible to us during the day, or ones that only com out of their homes at night.  Forests are not merely trees and plants, but delicate ecosystems with worms, insects, animals of all kinds, depending on latitude.  Perhaps some pesticides affect the populations of some insects.  Do they affect animals higher up the food chain? What numbers of animals and plants constitute a healthy ecosystem? What happens to these ecosystems as the climate changes? Timothée’s research studies ecology and populations – but not the way you would immediately think.  His lab uses mathematical models to study and predict what happens to ecosystems over time.  We asked Timothée to talk about his work:

I work on species interactions networks, and how and why they vary in time and space. This amounts to answering a very puzzling (to me) question: the same two species will not always interact in the same way — why? I use data analysis, and mathematical and computer models to find answers.

So it turns out that maths can have applications out side of engineering and theoretical physics!  We’re looking forward to hearing about maths from a biological perspective during the week.

So how did you end up in science, and why did you choose this field?

I was really curious about how things worked, especially living things. So I started a bachelor in genetics (and drifted a lot from there).

During the end of my BSc, I started to be increasingly interested in how species interacted, and how these interactions relied upon small scale mechanisms. That led me, over a few years, to work on community ecology. I am a board member of the international network of next-generation ecology. We try to make suggestions about new practices that can help ecological sciences, notably by improving connections between scientists and stakeholders. Our website is


Motivation: why should the lay public care about your research/work?

Species interactions are really important for most ecosystem services (for example pollination, but also pest regulation). Understanding when these interactions will vary, what the consequences will be, and what we can do about it from a conservation point of view is an interesting and quite novel challenge.

How would you describe your ideal day off? (Scientists are people too!)

I’m a dad now, so any day when I can spend time with my wife and play with our son is a good day!


This should be a fascinating week on Real Scientists (again): not only will Timothée be talking about ecosystems and modelling them, he’ll also be talking about setting up his new lab, having moved continents. Please welcome Timothée (@tpoi) to Real Scientists!

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