Nutritional Ecology: Stable Isotope Applications

Research Project: 

RB00E63.4.0

Project Manager: 

Craig Stricker
Salmon carcasses line the bank of an Alaskan river. Photo by Dan Rinella.
Salmon carcasses line the bank of an Alaskan river. Photo by Dan Rinella.

An understanding of species habitat requirements is incomplete without insight into nutrition, including various aspects of foraging ecology. Traditional diet studies of consumer organisms can be challenging due to logistics and issues related to resource availability, and observations are often short-term in nature based on gut contents or scat. Stable isotope techniques offer a useful tool for gaining additional insight into longer-term dietary habits for a variety of wildlife species. Stable isotope-inferred foraging ecology can be used with other fitness-related measures, including population parameters, molecular genetics, and demographics, to enhance our understanding of the role of wildlife nutrition.

The objectives of this study are as follows: 

  • To employ stable isotope techniques to constrain and/or reconstruct diet habits of focal wildlife species;
  • To conduct calibration studies on diet-tissue isotope fractionation;
  • To determine tissue-specific differences in isotopic turnover and fractionation;
  • To relate isotope-inferred foraging ecology to fitness-related measures, including population parameters, molecular genetics, and demographics to enhance our understanding of the role of wildlife nutrition.

The Stable Isotope Laboratory maintained by the Crustal Geophysics and Geochemistry (CGG) and Fort Collins Science Center (FORT) is a state-of-the-art facility with modern instrumentation capable of analyzing the isotopic composition of nearly any conceivable sample matrix. Laboratory staff and principal investigators have significant expertise in isotope systematics of the geosphere, biosphere, and hydrosphere. The Laboratory has demonstrated innovative approaches to challenging questions and as such, has significant latitude to address emerging issues in ecosystem science such as this.

 

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