Interindividual variability was considered for a long time to be only background noise or even mistakes in the expression of genetic programs. Nowadays it emerges as a fundamental element in species evolution mechanisms. Interindividual variability results on the phenotypic plasticity which represents the range within which an individual can modify its physiology, morphology and/or its behaviour in reply to environmental cues. The development of a given phenotype is constrained inseparably by both an individual's genetic program and the influences of the physical and social environment where this program develops.
Role of conspecifics
Conspecifics (as parents, in particular mothers) play a fundamental role during a young individual's behavioural development guiding it along a given ontogenetic pathway. When parents' phenotypes influence those of their offspring, these parental effects can then intervene as a non-genomic inheritance mechanism.
Moreover, development often occurs in a social context including conspecifics other than parents. To live in family group (as in social group), animals must recognize their conspecifics and keep track of previous encounters with their parents and peers. Investigating recognition mechanisms involving chemical cues is the first step to understand mother-young recognition by solitary and subsocial arthropod species.
The team develops four complementary research lines. The main biological models used are the precocial birds (quail) and the arthropods (spiders).
- Topic 1: The pre- and post-natal influences of mothers on the behavioural development of young: we develop two lines of research concerning the non-genetic way used by the mother to modify the ontogenic pathway of her offspring before and after birth.
- Topic 2: The mother-young relationships: we also characterize maternal behavioural and describe maternal styles to understand the mechanisms involved in maternal influence and/or transmission. We also develop researches on animal-robot interactions, using the robot as a maternal or social substitute to understand the non-genetic influences on development.
- Topic 3: Arthropod family bonds and chemical recognition. To complete these approaches, we investigate the role of chemical communication by arthropods in kin recognition, as the first step to understand mother-young recognition.
- Topic 4: Management of lifestock and preservation of wild species: we also contribute strongly to applied studies on animal welfare (stress effects in quail), wildlife conservation (hybridisation in European quail).
Our research mainly addresses fundamental issues (plasticity, development, and education), but has potential extensions concerning applied research concerning animal welfare, wildlife conservation, pest management and human health. We have contributed to a patent on a method and device for visually scaring animal species with Airbus Company.