VIPERES: Vulnerability of Alpine Grassland Interaction Networks to the evolution of pastoralism: an interdisciplinary field school for learning the scientific approach through research
The "VIPERES" field school is a laureate of the "Schools of Transition" section of the ITEM Institute's 2020 Call for Projects. This component finances innovative pedagogical actions for master or doctoral students, staff or professionals outside the institution in the framework of continuing education.
The VIPERES field school aims to encourage the active participation of students in the resolution of a real environmental problem defined by a funded research project and various socio-economic actors. In ecology, learning the scientific approach is based on a detailed understanding of increasingly complex problems, multiple environmental and societal issues and the rigour required for sampling and data acquisition. Fieldwork and confrontation with the concrete questions of a project at the interface between science and society, teamwork, investigation, measurement, statistical analysis and then the valorisation of results are practices necessary for this learning process because they favour an active teaching method. Moreover, the deployment of a holistic and multidisciplinary approach as well as the involvement of different socio-economic actors favours the development of reflective and critical thinking, facilitates the appropriation and resolution of complex problems through the elaboration of common strategies and strengthens the link between training and research.
It is in this pedagogical context that the VIPERES field school takes place; the M1 Biodiversity, Ecology and Evolution students, tutored by an M2 student, a doctoral student and a team of 8 academics (technician, engineer, teacher-researchers and researcher), will be entrusted beyond the school and therefore for a full academic year with the realization of a research project financed in 2020 and 2021 within the framework of an AMI of the Mercantour National Park. They will have to mobilize various disciplines (chemistry, microbiology, botany, entomology, statistics) to precisely evaluate the vulnerability of the ecological interaction networks of alpine grasslands to an agro-pastoral practice undergoing major changes: night-time herd parking.
In the face of modern agriculture with its increasing technological developments and industrialization of animal production, pastoralism appears to be a livestock activity that has managed to maintain a certain balance with natural resources and a close link to the territory. However, since the industrial revolution, pastoral farming in the mountains has undergone major changes in its practices and is moving away from the traditional agro-sylvo-pastoral system. With the disappearance of the wolf, eradicated between 1898 and 1908 in France, and an economic context favourable to meat production, pastoral practices have evolved: the number of herds has decreased but their size has increased (1000 to 3000 head) while maintaining only limited guarding and the possibility for herds to roam. Since the return of the wolf in the 1990s, night-time gathering and daytime resting places for the herds in mobile pens have been reintroduced to limit predation. This practice is accompanied by a localized enrichment of the soil in nitrogen (N), phosphorus and carbon, which through the displacement of the pens leads to a larger scale and lasting eutrophication of the soil, runoff water and lake environments and an accumulation of organic matter that will completely and permanently modify the flora and the environment. Changes in agro-pastoral practices and nutrient enrichment in soils have been shown to be, alongside climate change, the most important determinants of biodiversity changes in mountain ecosystems.
In order to perpetuate the ecosystem services of carbon sequestration, protection of water resources and animal production, the least conservative practices must be identified, their impacts assessed and appropriate solutions developed to accompany pastoral activities towards a necessary environmental transition.
Focus on the process
Find the report of this field school that took place from September 14 to 18, 2020.
Students of M1 Biodiversity, Ecology and Evolution (BEE - AMU)