Aarhus University Seal / Aarhus Universitets segl

Trophic ecology
and stressors

Trophic ecology represents inter-individual, inter-species and inter-trophospecies interactions within an ecosystem. This is crucial in understanding the flow of energy in the biosphere in face of highly variable, highly stressed (naturally or anthropogenically) or rapidly changing environments, such as the Arctic, Baltic and northern ecosystems in general. In addition, trophic ecology can be considered a central theme to better understand inter-species and food web dynamics of contaminants and zoonoses and how they impact wildlife health. Moreover, it provides a framework in which Humans and the impact of their activities can be investigated.

Since diet ingestion is the major pathway for exposure to environmentally persistent contaminants we have an extensive focus on understanding the role of individual feeding habits.

International projects


Central to our contaminant investigations, such as our long-term AMAP efforts and DANCEA monitoring activities, are the analysis for bulk stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes to interpret individual and species contaminant exposure with respect to habitat, food chain and trophic level. We are currently transposing this technique to monitor the presence and dynamics of zoonoses.

We are currently investigating the additional analysis of bulk sulphur isotopes and the transition into compound-specific (i.e. amino and fatty acid) analysis, both to advance our monitoring activities as well as to fundamentally understand the trophic ecology of Arctic, Baltic and northern wildlife.

Our research thus far is focused on apex predatory marine mammals, including polar bear (Ursus maritimus), narwhal (Monodon monoceros) and killer whale (Orcinus orca), and birds, such as white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) and tawny owl (Strix aluco). For this purpose, we extensively use stable isotope mixing models in order to better pinpoint trophic sources of energy as well as stressors, such as contaminant and zoonosis exposure, and their impact on wildlife health.

Extending our inter-individual and inter-species focus we employ the above analytical methods as input into ecological network analyses to study ecosystem dynamics and multiple-stressor health impacts in northern Greenland, specifically North West and North East Waters, as well as the Baltic ecosystems.