Trophic Positions


Stable isotope analysis of a vast range of materials pertaining to ecological research allows researchers to access information not readily attainable by other standard analytical techniques. Stable isotopes are frequently used by ecologists as tracers in biological systems, enabling the tracking of elemental cycling within an ecosystem. Variation in the isotopic signatures of different geographic regions allows isotopes to be utilised as tracers of migration, whilst the principles of isotopic fractionation allow biogeochemical processes to be interrogated to levels of details unattainable from elemental compositions alone.

For example, carbon isotopes can be used to determine the primary production source responsible for energy flow in an ecosystem, whereas nitrogen isotopes are useful in identifying the trophic level position of an organism. Sulphur isotopes can distinguish benthic producers from pelagic producers, as well as marsh plant from phytoplankton producers.

Developing our understanding of these innate relationships between living organisms and their environment through stable isotope analysis aids our stewardship of the natural world to ensure that future generations enjoy the same wonders that we do today.