Interactions Bioculturelles

Delphine RENARD


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Researcher at CNRS


My research addresses the roles of biodiversity, wild and domesticated (i.e. agrobiodiversity), in the functioning and resilience of agroecosystems. My research is interdisciplinary, bridging different domains of ecology (landscape, soil, functional ecology) with social sciences (ethnobiology, archaeology, economy). Thanks to these collaborations and the use of a wide range of approaches (fieldwork, modeling, GIS, remote sensing), my research spans multiple temporal (from decades to millennium) and spatial (local, regional and national) scales.


Background & current project in a nutshell

During my Ph.D. (2010, University of Montpellier), I assessed the long-term ecological effects of past agricultural practices on plants, soil macroinvertebrates and soil functioning. After a year of teaching, I completed six years of post-doctoral studies in North America (McGill, Canada and University of California in Santa Barbara, USA). My work provided multiple insights into the roles of habitat, functional and species diversities to support sustainable ways of farming.

I am currently the PI of the AgrobiodiverSity for a food-Secure planet-ASSET project (publicly funded by the French program Make Our Planet Great Again). Combining ecology and ethnoecology, ASSET is assessing the potential contributions of crop plants and local knowledge diversities to strengthen societies’ capacities to face increasing climatic variability. 

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Campus du CNRS
1919, route de Mende
F-34293 Montpellier 5
Tél. : +33 (0) 4 67 61 32 34
Fax : +33 (0) 4 67 61 33 36

bureau 2-C-204


Themes: Agrobiodiversity, biodiversity-ecosystem functioning, resilience, climate change, Human-nature interaction, ecosystem services, ecosystem engineers, mound-field landscapes

Disciplines: Ecology / Sustainability science
: French Guiana / Colombia / Bolivia / Morocco / Senegal / France / Canada

Methods: Statistical modelling with R, biodiversity surveys, GIS, remote sensing


Research themes

Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning in agroecosystems: I investigate how theoretical and empirical work in the ecological field of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning can help design more sustainable and resilient agroecosystems. Although most studies investigated the benefits of increasing crop diversity at the genetic, specific or functional levels within plots (through intercropping or rotation) on yield, soil fertility and pest/disease regulation, how agrobiodiversity can stabilize agroecosystem functioning through time remain largely unknown. In this area, I attempt to answer questions such as the following: Does increasing crop diversity lead to greater stability of yield through time ? What are the mechanisms behind the agrobiodiversity-stability relationship? More specifically, can crop diversity stabilize yield in the face of increased climate variability ? How do agrobiodiversity and agricultural management practices (e.g. irrigation, fertilization, etc.) interact to stabilize or destabilize yield? I tackle these questions across spatial scales, from plots to landscapes up to national and regional scales, combining historical data sets and empirical data collection.

Agrobiodiversity and traditional ecological knowledge: I am working closely with ethnoecologist and anthropologists to deepen the understanding of local knowledge linked to climate change and its local impacts on agriculture and how farmer use their knowledge on plants, climate and their land to make management decisions. In this theme, I work specifically with Yildiz Aumeeruddy-Thomas, Sophie Caillon and Victoria Reyes-Garcia and her LICCI project.

Ecosystem engineering in tropical wetlands: I am passionate about landscapes featuring regularly spaced earth mounds that can be seen from the air or space. I started to study these landscapes during my Ph.D in French Guiana where mounds were pre-Columbian raised fields, built by farmers to protect their crops from seasonal flooding. Humans are not the only ecosystem engineers to build earth mounds: termites, ants and earthworms are also known as mound builders. All these organisms use the same strategy: building mounds to promote their persistence in flood-prone or very dry environments. This convergence led to landscapes that are very resembling. One of the question I ask is methodological: How can we differentiate earth mounds of human and natural origin? My most recent research on earth mounds focus on surales, one of the most spectacular examples of regular patterns in natural ecosystems, located in the Orinoco Llanos of Colombia and Venezuela. Our team’s previous work showed that an earthworm species create individual mounds. But the question we ask now is how the ecosystem-level pattern emerges? And how the spatial pattern is modulated by environmental variables (e.g. topography and water depth)?

Education and research experiences

2019-2021 Postdoctoral fellow (PI) at Centre d’Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive UMR 5175 Montpellier, France. Project funded by the Investissement d’Avenir program Make Our Planet Great Again (MOPGA)

2016-2018 Postdoctoral fellow at Bren School of Environmental Science & Management,   

University of California, Santa Barbara, United States

Project: Link between biodiversity and functioning of agroecosystems

Main collaborator: David Tilman

2012-2015 Postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Natural Resource Sciences, McGill University, Montreal, Canada.  

Project: Dynamics of ecosystems services through time and space

Main collaborators: Elena Bennett, Jeanine Rhemtulla

2012    Assistant professor, AgroParisTech, Paris, France

Main collaborators: Nathalie Frascaria-Lacoste

2011    Research assistant, CEFE, Montpellier, France

Project : Contributions of past agricultural practices to agroecology

Main collaborator: Doyle McKey

2010    Ph.D in population biology and ecology, University of Montpellier II, France

Thesis: History and ecology of raised field landscapes in coastal savannas of French Guiana

2007    Master’s Degree in evolutionary biology and ecology, University of Montpellier II, France   

2005    Associate's Degree in Psychology, University of Besançon and University of Paris XIII, France


Peer-reviewed journals

Renard D, Tilman D. (2021) Biodiversification of agriculture: Cultivate biodiversity to harvest food security and sustainability. Current Biology 31, R1154-R1158.

Mahaut L., Violle C., Renard D. (2021). Complementary mechanisms stabilize national food production. Scientific Reports, 11(1), 1-7.

Labeyrie V, Renard D. et al. (2021). The role of crop diversity in climate change adaptation: insights from local observations to inform decision making in agriculture. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 51, 15-23.

Cissé X, Berthouly-Salazar C, Sall SN, Renard D, Clermont-Dauphien C, Niaye A, Barnaud A, Kane NA. (2021) Agrobiodiversité et transition agroécologique : Regards croisés chercheurs et paysans. In Biodiversité et développement durable, collection Synthèse de L’IRD.

Betley E., Sigouin A., Pascua P., Cheng SH., MacDonald K, Arengo F., Aumeeruddy-Thomas Y., Caillon S., Isaac ME., Jupiter SD., Mawyer A., Mejia M., Moore AC., Renard D., Sébastien L., Gazit N., Sterling EJ. (2021) Assessing well-being constructs with environmental and equity aspects: A review of the landscape. People and Nature 00 1-18.

Renard D., Tilman D. (2020) MA: Reply to Egli and collaborators. Nature 588, E13.

Renard D., Tilman D. (2019) National food production stabilized by crop diversity. Nature 571, 257-260.

Lamy T., Wang S., Renard D., Lafferty K.D., Reed D.C., Miller R.J. (2019). Species insurance trumps spatial insurance in stabilizing biomass of a marine macroalgal metacommunity. Ecology, e02719.

Frei B., Renard D., Mitchell M.G.E., Seufert V., Chaplin-Kramer R., Rhemtulla J., Bennett E. (2018) Bright spots in agricultural landscapes: Identifying areas exceeding expectations for multifunctionality and biodiversity. Journal of Applied Ecology 55, 2741-2753.

Renard D, Rhemtulla J, Bennett E (2016) Agro-biodiversity has increased over a 95-year period at sub-regional and regional scales in southern Quebec, Canada. Environmental Research Letters 11, 124024.

Tomscha S, Sutherland I, Renard D, Gergel S, Rhemtulla J, Bennett E, Lori D, Eddy I, Clark E (2016) A guide to historical datasets for reconstructing ecosystem services over time. BioScience 66, 747-762.

Zangerlé A, Renard D, Iriarte J, Jimenez LES, Montoya KLA, Juilleret J, McKey D (2016) The Surales, self-organized earth-mound landscapes made by earthworm in a seasonal tropical wetlands. PloS One 11, e0154269. Recommended by the Faculty of 1000.

Renard D, Rhemtulla J, Bennett E (2015). Historical dynamics in ecosystem service bundles. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 112, 13411-13416. Recommended by the Faculty of 1000.

Mitchell M, Bennett EM, Gonzalez A, Lechowicz MJ, Rhemtulla JM, Cardille JA, Vanderheyden K, Poirier-Ghys G, Renard D, Delmotte S, Albert CH, Rayfield B, Dumitru M, Huang HH, Kipp R, Larouche M, Liss K, Maguire DY, Martins K, Terrado M, Ziter C, Taliana L, Dancose K (2015). The Montérégie connection project: Linking landscapes, biodiversity, ecosystem services, and stakeholders at multiple scales for decision-making. Ecology and Society 20, 15.

McKey D, Renard D, Zangerlé A, Iriarte J, Montoya KLA, Jimenez LES, Solibiéda A, Durécu M, Comptour M, Rostain S, Riamond C (2014). New approaches to pre-Columbian raised-field agriculture: ecology of seasonnally flooded savannas, and living raised fields in Africa, as windows on the past and the future. In: Amazonía. Memorias de las Conferencias Magistrales del 3er Encuentro Internacional de Arquelogía Amazónica. Quito, Ecuador.

Renard D, Birk JJ, Zangerle A, Lavelle P, Glaser B, Blatrix R, McKey D (2013). Ancient human agricultural practices can promote activities of contemporary non-human soil ecosystem engineers: A case study in coastal savannas of French Guiana. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 62, 46-56.

Blatrix R, Renard D, Djieto-Lordon C, McKey D (2012). The cost of myrmecophytism: insights from allometry of stem secondary growth. Annals of Botany 110, 1-9.

McKey D, Elias M, Pujol B, Duputié A, Delêtre M, Renard D (2012). Maintien du potentiel adaptatif chez les plantes domestiquées à propagation clonale. Leçons de gestion par les cultivateurs de manioc amérindiens. Revue d’Ethnoécologie 1, 99-120.

Renard D, Iriarte J, Birk JJ, Rostain S, Glaser B, McKey D (2011). Ecological engineers ahead of their time: The functioning of pre-Columbian raised-field agriculture and its potential contributions to sustainability today. Invited paper, Ecological Engineering 45, 30-44.

Renard D, Birk JJ, Glaser B, Iriarte J, Grisard G, Karl J, McKey D (2011). Origin of mound-field landscapes: a multi-proxy approach combining contemporary vegetation, carbon stable isotopes and phytoliths. Plant and Soil 351, 337-353.

Renard D, Schatz B, McKey D (2010). Ant nest architecture and seed burial depth: implications for seed fate and germination success in a myrmecochorous savanna shrub. Ecoscience 17, 194-202.

McKey D, Rostain S, Iriarte J, Glaser B, Birk JJ, Holst I, Renard D (2010). Pre-Columbian agricultural landscapes, ecosystem engineers, and self-organized patchiness in Amazonia. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107, 7823-7828.

Iriarte J, Glaser B, Watling J, Wainwright A, Birk JJ, Renard D, Rostain S, McKey D (2010). Late Holocene Neotropical agricultural landscapes: phytolith and stable isotope analysis of raised-fields from French Guianan coastal savannahs. Journal of Archaeological Science 37, 2984-2994

Book chapters

Renard D (2016). Contributing author : Global Soil Biodiversity Atlas. A. Orgiazzi et al. (eds.), European Commission, Brussels, 175 pp

McKey D, Renard D, Zangerlé A, Iriarte J, Montoya KLA, Jimenez LES, Solibiéda A, Durécu M, Comptour M, Rostain S, Riamond C (2014). Ecologie historique des champs surélevés anciens et modernes d’Amérique et d’Afrique. In G. de Saulieu, M. Elouga and B. Sonké (eds.), Pour une Ecologie Historique en Afrique Centrale. Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie, IRD and PALOC, Yaoundé, Cameroon, 212 pp (2014)

McKey D, Renard D, Zangerlé A, Iriarte J, Montoya KLA, Jimenez LES, Solibiéda A, Durécu M, Comptour M, Rostain S, Riamond C. New approaches to pre-Columbian raised-field agriculture: ecology of seasonnally flooded savannas, and living raised fields in Africa, as windows on the past and the future. In: Amazonía. Memorias de las Conferencias Magistrales del 3er Encuentro Internacional de Arquelogía Amazónica. Quito, Ecuador ? pp 91-136 (2014).

Rostain S, McKey D, Iriarte J, Glaser B, Renard D, Birk JJ, Roux B (2010). Les savanes anthropisées du littoral de Guyane. In: Guyane Océan (eds, D. Guiral & R. Le Guen). Editions Roger Le Guen, Garies, France.



Renard D, Tilman D (février 2020) Crop diversity stabilizes national food production. World Biodiversity Forum, Davos, Suisse. Conférence invitée.

Renard D, Tilman D (mars 2020) Crop diversity stabilizes national food production. US-UK Science Forum on Sustainable Agriculture, Washington, Etats-Unis. Conférence invitée.

Renard D, Rhemtulla J, Bennett E (2015) Bundling food with other ecosystem services: A historical perspective on multifunctionality in Southern Quebec. International Landscape Ecology conference, Portland, Etats-Unis. Conférence invitee.

Renard D, Zangerle A, McKey D (2015) Ecological legacy of pre-Columbian agricultural activities. International Landscape Ecology conference, Portland, Etats-Unis. Conférence invitée.

Renard D, Zangerle A, McKey D (2015) Ecological legacy of pre-Columbian agricultural activities. Conférence annuelle de la Society of American Archaeologists, San Francisco, Etats-Unis. Conférence invitée.

Renard D, Rhemtulla J, Bennett E (2014) Emergence and spatial dynamics of ecosystem service interactions in southeastern Quebec from 1960 to 2006. Ecological Society of America, Sacramento, Etats-Unis.

Renard D, Rhemtulla J, Bennett E (2014) Dynamics of ecosystem services in space and time. Genomes to Biomes, Montréal, Canada.

Renard D, Rhemtulla J, Bennett E (2013) Ecosystem services in space and time. Conférence du Centre des Sciences de la Biodiversité du Québec, Montréal, Canada.

Renard D, Birk JJ, Glaser B, Iriarte J, Rostain S, McKey D (2010) Interactions between human and natural ecosystem engineers in ancient raised fields: implications in ecological engineering. Ecologie 2010, Montpellier, France.

Renard D, Birk JJ, Glaser B, McKey D (2009) Interactions of humans and natural ecosystem engineers: pre-Columbian raised-field complexes in Guianan coastal savannas. Symposium “Ecological engineering: From concepts to applications”, Paris, France.

McKey D, Rostain D, Glaser B, Iriarte J, Birk JJ, Renard D (2009) Landscapes co-constructed by man and nature: an interdisciplinary approach to pre-Columbian agricultural systems in Amazonia. Archéométrie Montpellier 2009, Ressources, Sociétés, Biodiversité, Montpellier, France. Conférence invitée.

Iriarte J, Renard D, Roux B, McKey D (2009) Agricultural productivity of pre-Hispanic raised-fields: an example from French Guiana. Archéométrie Montpellier 2009, Resources, Sociétés, Biodiversité, Montpellier, France.

Renard D, McKey D, Rostain, S (2008) Ecologie et archéologie des savanes côtières de la Guyane: paysages co-construits par l’Homme et la nature. Campus Agronomique, Kourou, Guyane française. Conférence invitee.

Renard D, McKey D (2008) Can spectral analysis of digitized images help us distinguish spatially periodic landscapes of natural and human origin? A case study of complexes of mounds in coastal savannas of French Guiana. World Archaeological Congress 6, Dublin, Irelande.

Renard D, Schatz B, McKey D (2008) The importance of secondary transport within ant nests for mymecochorous seed: a case study in Manihot. International Union for the Study of Social Insects (IUSSI), La Roche-en-Ardenne, Belgique.

McKey D, Renard D, Rostain S (2007) L’écologie contemporaine des complexes de champs surélevés dans les savanes côtières de la Guyane française. Les Hommes, d’autres ingénieurs d’écosystème, et des paysages qui s’auto-organisent. Symposium « Conservation of nature: what role for the social sciences? » Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France.

McKey D, Renard D, Rostain S (2007) Le fonctionnement contemporain d’un héritage des activités agricoles précolombiennes : les champs surélevés dans les savanes du littoral guyanais. 5èmes journées de l’Institut Français pour la Biodiversité, Tours, France.

Renard D, McKey D (2007) Ancient human landscape modifications affect contemporary ecosystem functioning: the ecology of an ant-plant seed dispersal mutualism in pre-Columbian raised-field complexes in seasonally flooded savannas of French Guiana. Annual meeting ATBC (Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation), Morelia, Mexique.


Renard D, Birk JJ, Rostain S, Iriarte J, Glaser B, McKey D (2010) Self-organizing fallows that maintain resource concentration and ecosystem services in pre-Columbian raised fields of Guianan savannas. Annual meeting of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC), Bali, Indonesia.


2017    Contribution to the book ‘Real of Fake? 3’, National Geographic Kids             

2016    Documentary for the program Discovery Science ‘What on Earth’ WAG TV      

2015    Writter for the blog «Montreal’s Ecosystems at Your Service » (, educational articles about nature’s contributions to people in urban areas    

2010   Renard D. Des fourmis et des Hommes. Une saison en Guyane magazine n°5   

2009   Renard D, McKey D, Schatz B. Dispersion des graines : le cas du manioc sauvage en Guyane française. Le courrier de la Nature magazine n° 250

2009    Documentary « Humus: die vergessene Klima-Chance » (