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Francesco Accatino: adventures in functional ecology

Newly hired INRA research scientist Francesco Accatino seeks to model the ecosystem services provided by agroecosystems.

Francesco Accatino is a research scientist at the Joint Research Unit—Science for Action and Sustainable Development: Activities, Products, Territories (INRA, AgroParisTech). © F. Accatino, INRA
By Catherine Foucaud-Scheunemann, translated by Jessica Pearce
Updated on 07/03/2017
Published on 01/20/2016

Milan, Italy, boasts a beautiful opera house and recently hosted a universal exposition. Less well known, perhaps, is its outstanding polytechnic university, where Francesco Accatino received his degree. Accatino is the newest member of the Joint Research Unit—Science for Action and Sustainable Development: Activities, Products, Territories (INRA, AgroParisTech). In his new career at INRA, he brings with him a toolkit of diverse experiences.

The university of the world

Upon the completion of his master’s degree in environmental engineering at the Polytechnic University of Milan, Accatino immediately began a PhD focused on ecosystem modelling.
Combining disciplines such as mathematics and ecology in his models, he set about untangling the biology of tropical savannas and, more precisely, the dynamics of tropical and subtropical vegetation.

To broaden his skill set, he spent a few months at the University of Göttingen in Germany and then, to gain direct experience with his study system, traveled to the University of KwaZulu-Natal, in South Africa.

His time in South Africa allowed him to mix research with pleasure and explore the natural treasures of the southern tip of the continent, from Swaziland to Mozambique and from the region of Drakensberg to the city of Durban. He got the chance to observe Africa’s charismatic fauna (lions, elephants, leopards, Cape buffalo, and rhinoceroses) and discover the jewels of the local flora.

His work then took him to the University of Western Ontario in Canada. While he spent his summers in North America, he returned to Italy during the winter to teach environmental hydrobiology. Although he admits that the plan was originally to escape the harsh Canadian winters, he took advantage of his transcontinental travels to introduce an element of the social sciences into his work on ecosystem dynamics. Ultimately, he developed a socio-ecological model representing landscape dynamics in wetlands experiencing different management policies.

A new research adventure: ecosystem services in agroecosystems

Accatino took the plane from Canada to France to interview for a position as an INRA research scientist with the Joint Research Unit—Science for Action and Sustainable Development: Activities, Products, Territories (INRA and AgroParisTech). He came out on top of the competition and started his new job in December 2015.

He will be switching both research institutions and research gears. As an INRA scientist, he will delve into functional ecology by modelling the synergistic and antagonistic interactions between the different ecosystem services provided by French agroecosystems. The ultimate goal is to promote system viability. In particular, he will try to construct multiscale models with a view to managing ecosystem service trade-offs and synergies. These models should also serve to predict future patterns of service and biodiversity dynamics in agricultural ecosystems (i.e., livestock and crop systems).

Accatino is delighted to have found a more permanent home in the suburbs of Paris, although he will miss the wide open spaces of South Africa, as well as his bike. However, we can be certain that he will quickly embark on new adventures along the many bike paths of the Parisian landscape!

Associated Division(s):
Science for Action and Development
Associated Centre(s):


  • 31 years old
  • 2014–2015 Postdoc, University of Western Ontario, Canada
  • 2014 PhD, Polytechnic University of Milan, Italy
  • Research conducted at the University of Göttingen, Germany, and the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
  • 2010-2015 Teaching assistant/Adjunct professor, Polytechnic University of Milan