Biomarkers for migration research


The H and O isotope ratios of many tissues from migratory animals exhibit relationships with the isotopic composition of local environmental water. As such, isotopes can be used as inherent tracers of animal movement. The relationships observed in natural systems are highly variable and noisy, however, leaving open the question of whether further ecological information is recorded in these tissue/environment relationships. Previous work in human and invertebrate systems suggests that regional or temporal dietary variation can be identified and quantified using data from these isotopic systems, but relatively little is known about the strength, ubiquity, and applicability of these relationships within migratory systems.

This project will support a postdoc to develop, test, and improve models that will constitute the next major advance in isotope-based tracking of animal migration; this might include models linking multiple isotope systems within individuals, improved models for environmental substrate isotope ratios, or behavioral and physiological models describing the relationship between "input" signal and "recorded" signal. A strong basis for this work exists in the many thousands of measurements that have been generated during the past ~15 years of isotope-based migration research. Efforts focused on both marine and terrestrial systems are possible.

Among the key questions to be addressed are:

  • Do relationships between the isotope ratios of tissues and local environmental materials preserve information on patterns of biological (e.g., dietary ecology, metabolic rate) and environmental variation?
  • Can reliable models for characterization of this variation over multiple spatial scales and among taxa be developed based on spatial isotopic datasets and models?
  • Do predictable spatiotemporal relationships exist between environmental forcers (e.g., agriculture, urbanization, drought) and isotopic 'indicators' for biology and environment?
  • Can understanding of environmental and behavioral isotopic effects improve the power of migration studies exploiting isotopic tracers?

Affiliated faculty

Bowen, Cerling, Hobson, Popp, West, Wunder

Image after Norris et al., 2006, Ornitological Monographs

ITCE News!

2018 course application window is now closed - admission decisions by end February

New Publication – SPATIAL and IsoCamp alum Cat Jarman develops ITCE research-in-residence project and reports paleogenomic analysis of skeletal samples in determining the origins of inhabitants of Rapa Nui. Read the paper published in Current Biology (here)

2018 Course Dates Announced!

Open PhD position - The research group of Prof. Kahmen at the University of Basel just published an open ERC-funded PhD position in stable isotope physiology. Read it (here).


New Publication - Marine isoscape paper from ITCE research-in-residence team including SPATIAL alum Sarah Magozzi, SPATIAL instructors Clive Trueman and Michael Wunder, and former ITCE post-doc Hannah Vander Zanden! Read it (here)!

New Publication - Marine Biology paper by SPATIAL alum Julia Adams (2015). Link to full-text article (here)!


New Publications - Two new papers by SPATIAL alum Sean Brennan involving salmon migration (here) and using dendritic network models to improve Strontium isoscapes (here)!


New Blog Post - Former SPATIAL student Katie Wedemeyer-Strombel discusses her experience as a SPATIAL student last summer! (Check it out here!)

Archived ITCE News


IsoMAP: WebGIS for Isotopes

IsoMAP is a dynamic, online workspace for spatial analysis, modeling and prediction of stable isotope ratio variation in the natural environment. The initial realease of the IsoMAP gateway is now live and supports precipitation isotope ratio modeling. Visit IsoMAP to learn more or to start making isoscapes today!