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Sophie   Caillon

Research Fellow
UMR 5175 CEFE Centre d'Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive
CNRS - Centre National pour la Recherche Scientifique (France)
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My field of research can be defined by two themes: the relationships between humans and habitats, and agrobiodiversity. I analyze how the two components of the biodiversity concept, cultural and biological interact and how they constitute an adaptive potential for societies exposed to faster and faster global changes.
Member of
Australian Anthropological Society (AAS)
e-toile Pacifique (e-toile)
Société des Océanistes (SdO)
European Society for Oceanists (ESfO)
Geographic administrative areas
Torba (Vanuatu)
Geographic places
Vanua Lava
Mota Lava
Historical periods
21st century
Indigenous languages
Download the CV
  • PhD Research (2000 to 2005)
    In situ conservation of agrobiodiversity — University of Orleans, IRD and CIRAD
    The varietal diversity of coconut and taro in an isolated village from Vanuatu are identified using tools from agronomy, anthropology, genetics and geography. The result of this interdisciplinary work suggests that its validation, both from the local as well as scientific points of view, depends not only upon the social relationships with the plants, which have been shaped by their biology and their history, but also upon the purposes for which they are intended, namely, to preserve a cultural diversity, a phenotypic variability, an evolutionary potential and the place’s memory through ancestral links.
    The contrasting examples of the taro (a socially valued object, cultivated on land inherited “from the ancestors”, and linked to an important cultural diversity and a narrow genetic-base) and the coconut (a socially valued object, planted in a crop space at the prompting of “the Whites” and genetically diverse despite few named categories) demonstrate that the same farmers make up a society that, through its management of taro, affirms traditional ecological knowledge, and all the while participates in a market economy by intensifying its crop of coconuts.
    This thesis illustrates that the integration of cultural and biological diversity into the biodiversity concept can lead to contradictions if this knowledge, reduced to simple formulae, is abstracted from its cognitive and socio-cultural settings. In questioning the feasibility of in situ conservation and participatory plant breeding politics, it underlines that an interdisciplinary approach is necessary to optimize the effectiveness and conciliation of conservation and development programs for subsequent populations that are confronted with globalisation processes.

    Key-words : Agrobiodiversity, Banks group, coconut, in situ conservation, cultural diversity, Melanesia, participatory plant breeding, seed system, Vanuatu.
  • Collaborative Project (2007 to 2007)
    Local management of cassava diversity in Vanuatu (Tanna island) — Ethnobotanical Price of Yves Rocher-Institut de France
    The objective of this project is to compare the evolutive dynamism of the cassava diversity between its area of origin (study case in French Guyana and Guyana) and its area of introduction (Gabon and Vanuatu). By linking practices and diversity in each of these areas, we are testing the fact that Vanuatu could be taken as a witness of what happened in countries where cassava was introduced much earlier.
  • Collaborative Project (2009 to 2010)
    Environmental and social impacts of migrants on islands of the South Pacific — Scientific Council of Montpellier II University
    In Vanuatu, migrants from Mota Lava, a small over-populated island (26 km², 1146 habitants), start to migrate since the 1980’s toward the uninhabited east coast of the large island of Vanua Lava (332 km², 1933 habitants). Their settlements have social and environmental consequences. By investing a “virgin” territory, migrants perturb the ecosystem, but also introduce immaterial and material objects that can be either natural or manufactured. If they do not locally compete, these objects participate to the transformation and the increase of both biological and cultural diversities. Plants, and more precisely vegetatively propagated ones (ex. taro, yams), are the only unchanging objects of this fragile environment that has to face numerous cyclones and abundant precipitations. Transported plants have been chosen not only to guarantee a comfortable settlement (alimentation, medical supply, construction, etc.), but also to conserve the memory of the land of origin associated to their ancestors. What are the environmental and social impacts caused by a human migration? To answer this question, we are 1. Identifying the nature – and the interactions with the autochthones plants – of the plant species (crops and forestry resources) transported through the migration, and 2. Analyzing the “treatment” (uses, perceptions, and representations) of the new settlement place both on Vanua lava and Mota Lava.
  • Teaching Experiences (2010 to now)
    Ethnobotany — Montpellier II University
    Course Ethnobotanic: history, concepts, methods and applications, credit Ethnobotanic and Biocultural Interactions, at Montpellier II University in the frame of the Master (first year) Ecology, Biodiversity, option Evolutionary Biology (BE), sub-option Biodiversity of Tropical Plant (BVT), Engineering in Ecology and Management of Biodiversity (IEGB), and Biodiversity, Ecology, Evolution (B2E).
    Principal teacher in collaboration with Yildiz Aumeeruddy-Thomas (Ethnobiologist, CNRS).
  • Collaborative Project (2011 to 2014)
    Circulation of seeds — FRB-CESAB
    Maintaining and managing agrobiodiversity is the key to achieving food security while using ecosystems sustainably. Effects of seed flows can vary, from weakening locally adapted systems by introducing inappropriate material to strengthening these systems by increasing adaptability to global change. Through meta-analyses of datasets combining information on exchanged seeds and on the social relationships between giver and recipient, we are studying seed exchange networks (SEENs) among farmers to assess how their structure – the signification, direction and intensity of seed fluxes among individuals or groups, and the distribution of genealogical, sociocultural or geographical distance among these individuals or social entities impacts agrobiodiversity. We are examining how SEEN structure interacts with socio-economic factors. Frequent limitations of work on SEENs are overcome by taking into account complementarities among cultivated species (instead of focusing on one key species) and by integrating processes at several spatial scales and levels of analysis.
  • Collaborative Project (2011 to 2013)
    Sustainable management of marine resources: for a better participation of local communities in Vanuatu (GESTRAD) — Pacific Funds and the French Embassy in Vanuatu
    Coastal marine resources are crucial to maintain food security (protein component) in Vanuatu. The inhabitants are locally in charge to manage these resources, at the noteworthy exception of the exported species. The main objective of this project is to contribute to the National fishery policy act for the littoral, and to enhance the participation of Ni-Vanuatu in designing such policies. On a selected sample of villages based on the islands of Efate, Santo and Malakula, we are evaluating how this management is locally undertaken, how it is evolving through time, and what factors and constraints are the most important. These data are compared to the information that researchers from the Vanuatu Cultural Center have collected ten years ago. In the frame of a Regional workshop, policy makers, fishermen, researchers and other local stakeholders will balance advantages and drawbacks of public fishery legislation versus local management of resources in the South Pacific.
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