Lars Stemmann is a former scientific coordinator of the Tara Oceans expedition. He is based at the OOV (Observatoire océanologique de Villefranche-sur-Mer) where he specializes in the analysis of planktonic ecosystems. He develops his research using quantitative imagery to determine the amount of plankton and its role in the oceans.
As part of the cooperation and development project initiated by the Tara Expeditions Foundation and financed by the French Facility for Global Environment (FFEM), Lars has been supervising Dodji Yawouvi Soviadan from Togo since October. For the next 2 years, Dodji will be doing a thesis on the distribution of planktonic organisms and their functions. Lars tells us about the first meeting of all the researchers involved in the project that took place this September in Chile.
What happened at this first meeting of postdoctoral fellows involved in the project and how would you summarize it?
Since the launch of the project in 2016, it was the first meeting of all the postdoctoral fellows and their supervisors. Scientists from the Tara Oceans consortium were also present along with Argentinean, Ecuadorian and South African scientists who attended this regional seminar. The first day was an opportunity to evaluate the Tara Oceans project by presenting all of the research that’s been accomplished up to now. The second day consisted of a series of round tables where each discussion was led by a postdoc/supervisor duo trained in the framework of the cooperation project. Each group explained how they intended to contribute to and pursue this research. The postdoctoral fellows presented their different projects for discussion. This seminar was also about politics: How to use the potential of scientific research to develop future international public policies for sustainable management of the ocean? How to build ‘bridges’ between two worlds that still communicate insufficiently?
You then went to Santiago to meet politicians. What happened there?
To pursue research of this magnitude requires real political will. The Tara Oceans project was presented to an audience of researchers and politicians alike. A Chilean senator was present and Ségolène Royal, former Minister of the Environment, also had the opportunity to give a speech. The themes discussed were more related to the services the oceans provide to our planet’s ecosystems, and less focused on research.
Lars Stemmann onboard Tara during the Tara Oceans expedition – © Tara Expeditions Foundation
Was this meeting an opportunity to refine research topics for postdoctoral fellows, or is it still too early?
For the moment, the research projects are only defined in broad outlines. They will all be part of this very wide-ranging subject: how does the environment influence the expression of genes in planktonic organisms? This meeting was especially an opportunity for all the postdoctoral fellows to get together, because they had never met each other before. They saw how their subjects overlapped, and realized they will form a team for the next 2 years. There will be close collaborations, especially on a common work about areas with minimum oxygen.
You will be supervising Dodji’s thesis, a scientist from Togo. Have you already collaborated with scientists from African countries?
Personally, no. France is developing a lot of oceanographic projects with Africa but they are mainly collaborations with Senegal and South Africa. With Togo, it’s a first.
Why did you decide to embark on this new kind of collaboration?
In the research community, there’s a race for publications and performance. Choosing to supervise a doctoral student or postdoctoral fellow whose initial training was out of the European system and poorly trained in plankton and genomics means taking an additional risk. But I’ve been doing research for a number of years, and now I’m letting myself escape from that logic to approach things in a different way.
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