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From models to data : understanding biodiversity patterns from environmental DNA data

Abstract : Integrative patterns of biodiversity, such as the distribution of taxa abundances and the spatial turnover of taxonomic composition, have been under scrutiny from ecologists for a long time, as they offer insight into the general rules governing the assembly of organisms into ecological communities. Thank to recent progress in high-throughput DNA sequencing, these patterns can now be measured in a fast and standardized fashion through the sequencing of DNA sampled from the environment (e.g. soil or water), instead of relying on tedious fieldwork and rare naturalist expertise. They can also be measured for the whole tree of life, including the vast and previously unexplored diversity of microorganisms. Taking full advantage of this new type of data is challenging however: DNA-based surveys are indirect, and suffer as such from many potential biases; they also produce large and complex datasets compared to classical censuses. The first goal of this thesis is to investigate how statistical tools and models classically used in ecology or coming from other fields can be adapted to DNA-based data so as to better understand the assembly of ecological communities. The second goal is to apply these approaches to soil DNA data from the Amazonian forest, the Earth's most diverse land ecosystem. Two broad types of mechanisms are classically invoked to explain the assembly of ecological communities: 'neutral' processes, i.e. the random birth, death and dispersal of organisms, and 'niche' processes, i.e. the interaction of the organisms with their environment and with each other according to their phenotype. Disentangling the relative importance of these two types of mechanisms in shaping taxonomic composition is a key ecological question, with many implications from estimating global diversity to conservation issues. In the first chapter, this question is addressed across the tree of life by applying the classical analytic tools of community ecology to soil DNA samples collected from various forest plots in French Guiana. The second chapter focuses on the neutral aspect of community assembly.[...]
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Guilhem Sommeria-Klein. From models to data : understanding biodiversity patterns from environmental DNA data. Biodiversity. Université Paul Sabatier - Toulouse III, 2017. English. ⟨NNT : 2017TOU30390⟩. ⟨tel-02316027⟩

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