Adeline Loyau, a researcher at an ecology laboratory in Toulouse, publishes her first book. In The Tribulations of a Scientist in the Mountains, the adopted Ariège wanted to “show behind the scenes.”
Your research is already the subject of scientific articles and lectures. Why did you decide to publish a book in late April?
When you are a researcher, you write scientific papers and go to conferences where you explain your work to your colleagues. It is hyperfactual, without emotions and there is no other side. When you read us, you get the impression that everything happened to the best of the worlds. We make a hypothesis, we explain what worked in the end, but not all the faults or problems because we do not have time. However, real life is not that at all. Often there are problems, or we do not choose the right method or a donkey does not want to help us (smiles). Sometimes we realize that we were not asking the right question, that the assumption we made was not the right one. People are not aware of this whole process.
What should you share with the general public?
I needed to pamper myself and put all those emotions that can’t be shared through scientific articles. My goal was not to write a book for specialists on chytridiomycosis in the mountains (smiles). I wanted to write a book for people who would never read scientific articles. Under the humor and explaining something else, I want them to learn things about ecology; who look at amphibians, ecosystems and the mountain differently, without having that idea that is preserved, that there is no effort to make. As a researcher, we think about how to make people aware, whether it’s through numbers or emotions. I thought I could hook people up by telling them funny things (smiles).
Beyond the humor, your publisher considers this story to be “worthy of the best thrillers.” Is it a choice?
I see research as research. It’s like when you watch a series on TV, at first you don’t know the culprit. We have a question and we have to formulate hypotheses, collect evidence and elements to know if we are going in the right direction. I thought maybe I’d talk to more people. I like series with investigations where I also look for the culprits (laughs) so I think we can get a little caught up in the game.
This book explains part of the RACE project, a scientific research in the mountains dedicated to a pathogenic fungus that decimates amphibians. How did this project start?
The RACE project, led by an international team of about 40 researchers, actually began in 2009. At first, we didn’t know why quitrid (a “killer fungus”) was present, especially in the mountains. We started with nothing, we just knew there was a pathogen and it was killing amphibians. We didn’t know where, or when, or how, or where it came from and how it worked and what caused death in individuals.
Why are amphibians interesting subjects to study?
As a non-scientist, I find amphibians to be friendly and sympathetic. As a scientist, amphibians are very important for mountain ecosystems. If they disappear, the whole ecosystem will collapse in no time. In some places, it was clean. In ecosystems, they have two functions. On the one hand, adults eat, for example, biting insects in order to regulate nuisance to humans or livestock. On the other hand, tadpoles are water grazers. They eat algae and keep the water clean. Then amphibians are eaten by other animals. For example, we came across a small ermine that needs adult amphibians to be there to eat.
In your book, you talk about the amazing strategies that amphibians have developed over the centuries.
They live in harsh conditions in the mountains. They are very large and have survived thanks to very interesting behavioral strategies. They managed to overcome the limitations by inventing systems that we would not have imagined in a science fiction film (smile). There are species where tadpoles stick to their father’s back and eat the skin of their backs. It is normal for the father (river). If they tell you that your children are struggling with their buttocks, some are struggling with the skin on their backs (laughs). I find this crazy.