RESEARCHER AT THE HUBERT CURIEN MULTI-DISCIPLINARY INSTITUTE (IPHC) OF THE CNRS IN STRASBOURG AND HEAD OF THE DEPARTMENT OF ECOLOGY, PHYSIOLOGY AND ETHOLOGY (DEPE).
Caroline Habold is specialised in physiology and animal nutrition; she is interested particularly in the ability of animals to adapt to nutritional deficiencies. She completed her PhD thesis in 2004 (Cellular and molecular mechanisms of intestinal absorption during fasting and after re-feeding). Her studies on fasting earned her the Janine Courrier Prize from the French Academy of Science in 2015.
When did you begin to study the European Hamster?
I started working on the question of the European Hamster in 2010, through my interest in the relationship between the feeding, hibernation and reproduction of this astonishing mammal. By discovering its difficult living conditions in a habitat that was lacking in food diversity (very far from the five fruit and veg recommended for humans!), I began to focus on protecting the species (NB: conservation biology is a branch of life sciences).
When CNRS joined the LIFE Alister project, you began to research maize; why was this?
We realised that the reduction in European Hamster populations coincided in part with the development of maize as a monoculture in the Alsace plain. We had to find the reasons why the animal could not adapt to living in the plots of maize. Together with Mathilde Tissier, my doctoral student, I notably discovered that a Vitamin B3 deficiency in the maize resulted in infanticides by female hamsters. So, I am now looking into how we can supply the species with dietary diversity to compensate for the deficiencies that are harmful for its reproductive cycle.
So you are working with the Chamber of Agriculture, another partner of LIFE Alister?
Yes, within the LIFE programme, we are talking with farmers to include the agronomic and economic factors that must be taken into account in our research if we want to find long term solutions for the hamsters and for agriculture. I am convinced that far beyond the hamsters, the whole ecosystem will benefit from the new crops and that, in turn, farming will see the advantages.
A change in cultural practices to promote biodiversity will also lead to soil restoration and therefore undoubtedly, to better harvests.