CE34 - Contaminants, écosystèmes et santé

Availability and transfer of trace elements through Arctic terrestrial food-chains and their health implications to large Arctic wildlife (ATCAF) – ATCAF

Submission summary

The Arctic is one of the planet’s most rapidly warming regions, which will likely alter the biogeochemical processes involved in the bioavailability and transfer of essential (i.e. nutrients such as Cu, Zn, Se) and non-essential (i.e. contaminants such as Pb, Cd, Hg) trace elements. Simultaneously, human presence in the region is increasing due to an expansion of on- and off-shore exploration/extraction of oils & minerals all with a risk of adverse environmental effects. Yet most knowledge about the chemical and biological processes involved in the transfer of trace elements through Arctic food-chains is based on marine and aquatic systems, whereas the Arctic terrestrial ecosystem in general, and Arctic terrestrial food-chains specifically, are vastly unexplored. A better understanding of the cycling of such elements is thus crucial as it may have wide ranging implications on trophic interactions, terrestrial biodiversity and ecosystem functioning as a whole.

The ATCAF-project will fill this knowledge gap by targeting the environment – biota – trace element interaction in a high-Arctic terrestrial landscape, while also taking an original approach by directly linking trace elements concentrations in large wildlife to individual and population health. Specifically, the aim is to quantify the above-ground/below-ground linkages of trace elements in a high-Arctic terrestrial ecosystem (i.e. Zackenberg, East Greenland), estimate the transfer efficiency within local food-chains (i.e. in soil, vegetation, prey- & predator-invertebrate insects, herbivores and carnivores), and assess the potential health effects of these elements within large Arctic wildlife (i.e. muskoxen and Arctic fox).

To reach this aim, ATCAF will be organized in four interlinked work tasks:
Task 1) Ecogeochemistry & the landscape: Mapping of availability and spatial variation in essential and non-essential elements across the soils and vegetation of an Arctic landscape
Task 2) Ecogeochemistry & the food-chains: Transfer efficiency of essential- and non-essential elements through Arctic terrestrial food-chains
Task 3) Ecogeochemistry & the individual: Trace element distribution within individuals and the potential link between wildlife hair and population health
Task 4) Ecogeochemistry and the isotopes: Isotopic composition in blood samples from large Arctic wildlife as diagnostic tool of health

By studying the accumulation of contaminants in Arctic terrestrial food-chains in tandem with the uptake of essential elements, ATCAF will provide much needed information on their combined effects on the health and fitness of local biota. Uniting empirical data and predictive modelling approaches, ATCAF will therefore deliver 1) maps showing spatial variation in the trace element composition of different soil and vegetation types in a high-Arctic terrestrial ecosystem, 2) quantitative values of above-ground/below-ground linkages and transfer efficiency of trace elements between trophic levels in the studied system 3) an extensive assessment of within individual trace element distribution and a novel analytical protocol using wildlife hair as a non-invasive long-term bioindicator of individual- and population health, 4) a novel analytical protocol using isotopic composition of blood as a diagnostic tool for wildlife health (e.g. neoplasia, inflammatory status, body condition, pathogen).

Combined, the successful outcome of the ATCAF-project will revolutionize science-based monitoring of wildlife health and population trends in systems under pressure. This, in turn, will promote well-informed conservation strategies, wildlife monitoring and ecosystem management with additional socioeconomic and cultural values as it pertains to local populations depending on this wildlife and the ecosystem for their livelihood.

Project coordination


The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


AU Aarhus University / Department of Bioscience

Help of the ANR 289,900 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: September 2021 - 36 Months

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