The principal objective of the IsoTroph project is to improve the geochemical method used in paleontology of terrestrial mammals, through the application of stable isotopes of single amino acids in paleoecology. In particular, the project focuses on a single amino acid (glutamate and phenylalanine) δ15N trophic discrimination factor (TDF). It is a quantitative parameter used in reconstructions of past animal or human trophic positions (a primary consumer – a herbivore; a secondary consumer – a carnivore feeding on herbivores; etc.), crucial for understanding the evolution of environments. The TDF has never been established before for terrestrial mammals, although it is a key parameter in modelling the past ecology.
The main research method of IsoTroph is the analysis of δ15N in bone collagen of a population of a predator and that of its prey, and then calculating the TDF between these populations. To achieve this, the project will involve a study of modern populations (collections of recent bones of wolf, lynx, red fox, and their prey, from Białowieża Forest and fox den), as well as a collection of fossils from a Pleistocene carnivore den (cave hyena and its prey). These collections will provide insight into four species of mammalian carnivores, representing variable ecology (both hypercarnivores and omnivores), and different chronology (recent and Pleistocene).
The project offers a great chance for professional training in a new method with a vast potential to be used in paleoecology – the stable isotope composition of single amino acids. This training is to be performed through research, which will bring the high quality results of the greatest interest for a wide audience of scientists currently involved in paleoecological studies of animals and humans. The project will deliver answers on the direct collagen-to-collagen TDF, which was never determined before, and which will be broadly applied in future isotopic studies in ecology and paleoecology.
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