Second field season started at the Alpine Marmot Project

Welcome back to the Natural Reserve of La Grande Sassière where the second field season on alpine marmots started 3 weeks ago. Whereas last year at the same period there was deep snow (1m40), we arrived in an almost snow-free area.


As some of you enjoyed the mild winter, it seems that the marmots did too. Survival rate of the juveniles has never been that good: we already caught 90% of them! Even the lightest one, that was 165g last year survived: it is now 900g and it is running and playing all around with its 4 brothers and sisters!

_IGP4537 copie

To deal with energy limitation, individuals have to adjust their energy balance (energy acquisition vs. energy expenditure) to maintain their homeostasis and maximize their fitness. Among all mechanisms, thermoregulation represents the highest energetic cost in endotherms. My research project focus on the role of hibernation in the life history of the marmot. To understand how hibernation patterns are adjusted to environmental conditions, we are following the body temperature of 33 individuals since May last year with loggers placed in the intra-abdominal cavity. We already caught 20 of them. Cannot wait to download the data from these loggers! Some preliminary results below… Looks great, does not it!

hib marm

Have a look to our blog in 3 weeks to know how the field session ended, and come back in few months to know more about the mechanisms underlying critical trait-demography relationships of the Alpine Marmot!

When Claude meets Charles…

“Claude Bernard and Charles Darwin, two geniuses from 19th century, initiated each in their own way and from disjoint areas, the contemporary biological revolution.
Physiological ecology is born from the convergence of their views and now evolves since the appropriation of the news tools such as molecular and cell biology, proteomics, ecotoxicology and isotopic chemistry. The main purpose of this biological discipline is to integrate physiological processes in the ecology and evolution concepts.” website

This is what drives me to Lyon (France) the last week to participate to the 1st Symposium of Animal Physiological Ecology.
It was a really interesting meeting with scientific talks of high quality.
Different topics have been discussed showing the multidisciplinarity of Physiological Ecology:
– Adaptations to extreme conditions
– Anthropogenic stress
– Behavior
– Genome, allocation, life history traits
– Pathogenesis and Parasites
– Physiological Ecology and Conservation

I gave a talk on the importance of physiological flexibility in a changing world and hope to present data on alpine marmots in 2 years at the 2nd Symposium of Animal Physiological Ecology!


Are the marmots fat or muscled?

While some are tracking meerkats in South Africa, others are developing complex models in Zurich, I was doing laboratory work at the “Institut Pluridisciplinaire Hubert Curien” in collaboration with the Evolutionary EcoPhysiology Team (Strasbourg, France).


No, no,no, I am not playing with liquid nitrogen for fun…
I am doing cryo-distillation to isolate water from biological fluids (here blood samples).
You probably wondering:  What? or Why ? I would answer because we want to demonstrate that:


In other words, we want to validate the bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) by the deuterium dilution method to measure the body composition of marmots.
The bioelectrical impedance measurement is a non invasive method to estimate body composition and in particular body fat by determining absolute fluid volumes. It is doing exactly the same than the new scale you have at home! It is based on the fact that an electric current is conducted poorly by fat and bone but conducted well by tissues containing electrolytes and water.
BIA has been used in a number of species to evaluate total body water and thus body composition, including humans, cats, harbor seals, bear, dogs, pigs, horses but never used in marmots before.

So to ensure that this method is also appropriate in marmots, we evaluate the total body water by deuterium concentrations in condensed water from blood sample.

For more informations, you can read:
Kyle UG, Bosaeus I, De Lorenzo AD, Deurenberg P, Elia M, Gómez JM, Heitmann BL, Kent-Smith L, Melchior J-C, Pirlich M (2004). “Bioelectrical impedance analysis—part I: review of principles and methods.” Clinical Nutrition 23(5): 1226-1243. pdf

Eco-evolutionary Dynamics Workshop in Leiden

This week, Cindy and I participated in the “Eco-evolutionary Dynamics in a Changing World” workshop at Lorentz Center, Leiden.

The organisers, Stephanie Jenouvrier, Thomas Reed and Marcel Visser, brought together a select group of researchers working at the interface of ecology and evolution, from both theoretical and empirical backgrounds, to brainstorm on our current understanding of eco-evolutionary dynamics. Unlike most other workshops, this one had quite an interesting format. There were only a few plenary talks, and most of the time participants held smaller break-out sessions on their own research area. Although there were no final road-maps or even a clear definition of eco-evolutionary semantics, these break-out sessions, I think, worked very well for tossing around ideas and discussing more specialised topics among those with shared interests. For our part, we received great input on our two projects.

Cindy Canale, our new eco-physiologist

Together with Dr. Aurelie Cohas and Prof. Dom Allain (University of Lyon), who have been working on an Alpine marmot population in French Alps for over 20 years, we have been thinking on a research plan to investigate the physiological, behavioural and demographic responses of the rotund rodents to environmental change. All we needed was an eco-physiologist, who would help us to better understand the hibernation physiology, and Dr. Cindy Canale stepped on to the scene. Cindy wrote an excellent fellowship proposal, all the while chasing lemurs in Madagaskar, and we just learned that she won the prestigious Marie Curie Postdoctoral Award. She is joining our ranks in February. A big welcome to our group and congratulations for the well-deserved award!

Cindy Canale | Postdoc


My research uses theoretical and experimental approaches to address a broad range of fundamental questions related to adaptive responses of the organism to environmental factors. I am working on the importance of phenotypic plasticity, particularly physiological plasticity, in overcoming current climate changes. I am especially interested in determining the mechanisms underlying the regulation of adaptive responses, including behavioural and physiological parameters (thermoregulation, metabolism, hormonal rates) and fitness components (body mass variation, reproductive success, offspring performances, immune response, survival rate).

My studies are mainly based on multidisciplinary approaches, associating data from physiological, population, evolutionary, immune and behavioural ecology. Research topics covered so far are:

  • Adaptive Responses of Alpine Marmot (Marmota marmota) to Climate Change
  • The evolution of endothermy in mammals: A test of the Pleisiomorphic-Apomorphic Model with energetics and behavioural data from heterothermic primates (Microcebus sp.)
  • Climate change and adaptative responses: Phenotypic flexibility and energetical trade-offs in a heterothermic primate (Microcebus murinus)
  • Acclimation and heat shock in parasitic wasps (Aphidius avenae)
  • Social rank in domestic cat (Felis sylvestris catus)

I am currently developping a multi-disciplinary approach linking genotypic, phenotypic, individual, and population levels of organization. I will provide a powerful integrative framework for predicting the vulnerability (or resilience) of the Alpine marmot (Marmota marmota) in the face of environmental change, and thus provide the knowledge necessary to implement objective and accurate conservation strategies.

More information on the Alpine Marmot project can be found here.

marmot                 ARC

And, when I am not trapping lemurs in Madagascar or marmots in the Alps, I love chasing all other kinds of animals including butterflies, lizards and frogs…

2013-2015 Postdoctoral Research Associate, Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, University of Zurich, Switzerland
2011-2012 Postdoctoral Research Associate, School of Biological and Conservation Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
2007-2010 PhD in Ecophysiology, University Pierre et Marie Curie (Paris VI), UMR CNRS/MNHN, Brunoy, France
2006-2007 Postgraduation in Ecophysiology and Ethology, University Louis Pasteur, Strasbourg, France
2005-2006 MSc in Ethology, University Paris XIII, Villetaneuse, France
2002-2005 BSc in Life Science and Organisms Biology, University Savoie Technolac – Bourget du Lac, France

  • Lovegrove BG, CanaleCI, Levesque D, Fluch G, Řeháková-Petrů  M, Ruf T (2014) Are tropical mammals physiologically vulnerable to Arrhenius effects and climate change? Physiological and Biochemical Zoology – Special Issue ‘Conservation Physiology’ 87(1):30-45
  • Canale CI, Huchard E, Perret M, Henry PY (2012) Reproductive resilience to food shortage in a small heterothermic primate. Plos One 7(7): e41477
  • Canale CI, Levesque D, Lovegrove BG Tropical heterothermy – does the exception prove the rule or force a re-definition? (2012) In: Ruf T, Bieber C, Arnold W, Millesi E (Eds) Living in a Seasonal World: Thermoregulatory and Metabolic Adaptations, Springer, Vienna, p29-40
  • Canale CI, Perret M, Henry PY (2012) Torpor use during gestation and lactation in a primate Naturwissenchaften 99(2):159-163
  • Huchard E, Canale CI, Le Gros C, Perret M, Henry PY, Kappeler P (2012) Convenience polyandry or convenience polygyny? Costly sex under female control in a promiscuous primate. Proceedings of the Royal Society B – Biological Sciences 279(1732):1371-1379
  • Languille S, Blanc S, Blin O, Canale CI, Dal-Pan A, Devau G, Dhenain M, Dorieux O, Epelbaum J, Gomez D,Hardy I, Henry PY, Irving EA, Marchal J, Mestre-Francés N, Perret M, Picq JL, Pifferi F, Rahman A, Schenker E,Terrien J, Théry M, Verdier JM, Aujard F (2012) The grey mouse lemur : A non- human primate model for ageing studies. Ageing Research Reviews 11(1):150-162
  • Canale CI, Perret M, Thery M, Henry PY (2011) Physiological flexibility and acclimation to food shortage in a heterothermic primate. Journal of Experimental Biology 214(4):551-560 (highlighted in Inside JEB:
  • Canale CI, Henry PY (2011) Energetic costs of the immune response and torpor use in a primate. Functional Ecology 25(3):557-565
  • Canale CI, Henry PY (2010) Adaptive phenotypic plasticity and resilience of vertebrates to increasing climatic unpredictability. Climate Research 43(1-2):135-147
  • Canale C (2009) Could daily torpor be modulated in response to environmental challenges? Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology A- Molecular & Integrative Physiology – Conference Proceedings 153A(2):S58-S59

Adaptive responses of Alpine marmots to climate change

(funded by Marie Curie and AXA Research Fund)

Reporting, understanding and predicting the response of biodiversity to climate change has become an active and major field of research to support the development of proactive environmental management strategies. The aim of this project is to explore from genotype to populations the causes and consequences of climate change on a hibernating species endemic to European Alps: the Alpine Marmot (Marmota marmota). First, we will identify populations’ responses to environmental variations using an extensive demographic database (1990-2012). Second, we will determine the physiological mechanisms that drive life history processes and, consequently, population dynamics using experimental and observational field data. Finally, we will determine the balance between phenotypic plastic and evolutionary responses to assess how climate change acts as a new and major selection force. Overall, by integrating these mechanisms into recently developed trait-based models of population dynamics, we will provide solid predictions on this model species’ response to environmental change and geographic range that will be used for building objective and accurate conservation strategies for the fragile biodiversity of the Alps.

In collaboration with: