Felix de Tombeur photoPostdoc researcher (Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellow)

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leaf surface Sue

Research interests

Soil scientist fascinated by plant ecophysiology, my research focusses on soil-plant interactions in both natural and controlled conditions. I am particularly interested in silicon (Si), a major component of the Earth’s crust and soils, that is increasingly considered as a key element in plant ecology and agriculture through the fantastic process of biosilicification (mineral deposits in plant organs as seen on the left).



Research thematic

I combine expertise in soil science and plant ecophysiology to work on three different research axes:

  • The influence of soil properties, and in particular their evolution over time through the use of long-term chronosequences, on silicon cycling (e.g., soil Si pools and fluxes, Si availability for plants, Si uptake by plants and silicification, biological versus lithological control on Si cycling)
  • The control of overlooked biotic factors on soil-plant Si mobility (e.g., soil microorganisms, large herbivores, root exudates), and how they could be leveraged to increase crop Si status through specific agricultural practices.
  • Developing functional trait-based approaches to better understand the role and functions of Si and silicification in plant ecophysiology, and how it aligns with major ecological theories (plant growth/defense tradeoff, plant economics spectrum, resource availability hypothesis, etc.).


de Tombeur F, Roux, P, Cornelis JT (2021), Silicon dynamics through the lens of soil-plant feedback interactions: perspectives for agricultural practices. Plant and Soil. 467, 1-28.

de Tombeur F, Laliberté E, Lambers H, Faucon MP, Zemunik G, Turner BL, Cornelis JT, Mahy G (2021) A shift from phenol to silica-based leaf defenses during long-term soil and ecosystem development. Ecology Letters. 24, 984-995.

de Tombeur F, Cornelis JT, Lambers H (2021), Silicon mobilization by root-released carboxylates. Trends in Plant Science. 26, 1116-1125.

de Tombeur F, Cornelis JT, Laliberté E, Lambers H, Mahy G, Faucon MP, Turner BL (2021) Impact of ecosystem water balance and soil parent material on the terrestrial silicon cycle: insights from three long-term chronosequences. Biogeochemistry. In press.

de Tombeur F, Cooke J, Collard L, Cisse D, Saba F, Burgeon V, Hassan N, Cornelis JT (2021), Rice-husk biochar affects silicification patterns and physical traits of rice leaves cultivated in desilicated soils (Ferric Lixisol). Plant and Soil. 460, 375-390.

Vander Linden C, Li Z, Iserentant A, Van Ranst E, de Tombeur F, Delvaux B (2021), Rainfall is the major driver of plant Si availability in perudic gibbsitic Andosols. Geoderma. 404, 115295.

Falster, D, et al. (2021) AusTraits – a curated plant trait database for the Australian flora. Scientific Data. 8, 254.

de Tombeur F, Turner BL, Laliberté E, Lambers H, Cornelis JT (2020) Silicon dynamics during 2 million years of soil development in a coastal dune chronosequence under a Mediterranean climate. Ecosystems. 23, 1614-1630.

de Tombeur F, Turner BL, Laliberté E, Lambers H, Mahy G, Faucon MP, Zemunik G, Cornelis JT (2020) Plants sustain the terrestrial silicon cycle during ecosystem retrogression. Science. 369, 1245-1248.

de Tombeur F, Vander Linden C, Cornelis JT, Godin B, Compere P, Delvaux B (2020), Soil and climate affect foliar silicification patterns and silica-cellulose balance in sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum). Plant and Soil. 452, 529-546.

de Tombeur F, Cornu S, Bourlès D, Duvivier A, Pupier J, ASTER Team, Brossard M, Evrard O (2020) Retention of 10Be, 137Cs and 210Pbxs in soils: Impact of physico-chemical characteristics. Geoderma. 367, 114242.

Li Z, de Tombeur F, Vander Linden C, Cornelis JT, Delvaux B (2020) Soil microaggregates store phytoliths in a sandy loam. Geoderma. 360, 114037.

Nakamura R, Cornelis JT, de Tombeur F, Yoshinaga A, Nakagawa M, Kitajima K (2020) Diversity of silicon release rates among tropical tree species during leaf-litter decomposition. Geoderma. 368, 114288.

Nakamura R, Cornelis JT, de Tombeur F, Nakagawa M, Kitajima K (2020) Comparative analysis of borate fusion versus sodium carbonate extraction for quantification of silicon contents in plants. Journal of Plant Research. 133, 271–277.

Leroy N, de Tombeur F, Walgraffe Y, Cornelis JT, Verheggen F (2019) Silicon and plant natural defenses against insect pests: impact on plant volatile organic compounds and cascade effects on multitrophic interactions. Plants. 8, 444.

de Tombeur F, Sohy V, Chenu C, Colinet G, Cornelis JT (2018) Effects of permaculture practices on soil physicochemical properties and organic matter distribution in aggregates: a case study of the Bec-Hellouin Farm (France). Frontiers in Environmental Science. 6, 116.




I am interested in the origins of phenotypic variation in plants. Previously I focused on the genetic origins of variation in transpiration in grapevine and Arabidopsis thaliana. Currently I am working on the more fundamental origins of trait variation in crop species, especially maize and sorghum. For example, I investigate how traits correlate with the size of the genome, cell, organ and whole plant.

Example of variation in the height and flowering time of different sorghum varieties :

IMG 2021 08 10 08 44 13 490


  • Since 2021: post-doc, CEFE-CNRS
  • 2017-2020: PhD Ecophysiology and Plant Adaptation, UMR LEPSE (INRAE, Montpellier SupAgro)
  • 2014-2016: MSc Plant Biotechnology, Wageningen University
  • 2011-2014: BSc Plant Sciences, Wageningen University


Do not hesitate to contact me for information about my previous or current research projects !

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Cette adresse e-mail est protégée contre les robots spammeurs. Vous devez activer le JavaScript pour la visualiser.PostDoc researcher

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Research questions

How ecological processes and human activities affect biodiversity and ecosystem functioning?

To address this question, I assemble approaches from community ecology, functional ecology and quantitative ecology. I mainly focus on cultivated ecosystems and their associated plant communities, including both cultivated and wild species (i.e. arable weeds). 

My researches hinge on three particular thematics:

1) Plant invasion: Which ecological processes drive plant invasion success? How invaded species affect local plant communities?

2) Weed community ecology: How stochastic and deterministic ecological processes shape weed community assembly in arable fields? Are weeds ecological outliers?

3) Biodiversity-ecosystem functioning: How the different facet of plant diversity (eg: species richness, functional diversity, species relative density) affect ecosystem functioning? How the diversity of cultivated species can be manipulated to increase yield stability?



Mahaut L., Fort F., Violle C., Freschet G., revision. Multiple facets of diversity effects on plant productivity: species richness, functional diversity, species identity and intraspecific competition. Journal of Functional Ecology

Mahaut L., Gaba S., Fried G., 2019. A functional diversity approach of crop sequences reveals that weed diversity and abundance show different responses to environmental variability. Journal of Applied Ecology. 56 (6): 1400-1409. doi: 10.1111/1365-2664.13389

Bourgeois B., Munoz, F., Fried, G., Mahaut, L., Armengot, L., Denelle, P., Storkey, J., Gaba, S., Violle, C., 2019. What makes a weed a weed? A large-scale evaluation of arable weeds through a functional lens. American Journal of Botany.106 (1): 90-100. doi: 10.1002/ajb2.1213

Fried G., Carboni M., Mahaut L., Violle C., 2019. Functional traits modulate plant community responses to alien plant invasion. Perspectives in Plant Ecology Evolution and Systematics. 37: 53-63. doi: 10.1016/j.ppees.2019.02.003

Fried G., Mahaut L., Pinston A., Carboni M., 2018. Abiotic constraints and biotic resistance control the establishment success and abundance of invasive Humulus japonicus in riparian habitats. Biological Invasions. 20 (2): 315-331. doi: 10.1007/s10530-017-1533-y

Mahaut L., Fried G., Gaba S. 2018. Patch dynamics and temporal dispersal partly shape annual plant communities in ephemeral habitat patches. Oikos. 127: 147-159. doi: 10.1111/oik.04415