, Volume 18, Issue 3, pp 404–416 | Cite as

What Can Stable Isotope Analysis of Top Predator Tissues Contribute to Monitoring of Tundra Ecosystems?

  • Dorothee EhrichEmail author
  • Rolf A. Ims
  • Nigel G. Yoccoz
  • Nicolas Lecomte
  • Siw T. Killengreen
  • Eva Fuglei
  • Anna Y. Rodnikova
  • Barwolt S. Ebbinge
  • Irina E. Menyushina
  • Bart A. Nolet
  • Ivan G. Pokrovsky
  • Igor Y. Popov
  • Niels M. Schmidt
  • Aleksandr A. Sokolov
  • Natalya A. Sokolova
  • Vasily A. Sokolov


Understanding how climate change and increasing human impacts may exert pressure on ecosystems and threaten biodiversity requires efficient monitoring programs. Indicator species have been proposed as useful tools, and predators and their diet may be particularly suitable. The vast and remote arctic tundra represents a good case study as shifts in ecosystem states are presently occurring, and monitoring is a major challenge. Here we assess what stable isotopes reflecting the diet of the arctic fox, a widespread and highly flexible top predator, can contribute to effective monitoring of the vertebrate prey basis of Arctic tundra. We used data collected over 2–5 years from six sites in the Eurasian Arctic and Greenland. Stable isotope signatures of arctic fox winter fur reflected both spatial and temporal variability in the composition of the vertebrate prey basis. Clear contrasts were apparent in the importance of marine resources, as well as of small rodents and their multiannual density fluctuations. Some important resources could however not be separated because of confounding isotopic signatures. Moreover, except for preferred prey, the proportions of prey in the diet may not necessarily reflect the relative importance of species in the community of available prey. Knowing these limitations, we suggest that the arctic fox diet as inferred from stable isotopes could serve as one of several key targets in ecosystem-based monitoring programs.


ecological indicator monitoring stable isotopes predator diet arctic tundra food web Vulpes lagopus 



We thank all the people who contributed to field work in the different sites, and Sissel Kaino and Jennifer Stien for help in the lab. This study was supported by the Research Council of Norway’s International Polar Year Program (project Arctic Predators), the Norwegian Directorate of Nature Management (project Arctic fox in Finnmark), the Danish Environmental Protection Agency (Zackenberg Basic), the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, and the Russian Foundation for Basic Research (Grant No. 047.017.038 to BAN), the Norwegian Polar Institute (Projects arctic fox, reindeer, ptarmigan and sea bird monitoring in Svalbard), and the State Nature reserve “Wrangel Island”. We thank three anonymous referees and John Pastor for constructive comments on a previous version of the manuscript.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 938 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dorothee Ehrich
    • 1
    Email author
  • Rolf A. Ims
    • 1
  • Nigel G. Yoccoz
    • 1
  • Nicolas Lecomte
    • 1
    • 2
  • Siw T. Killengreen
    • 1
  • Eva Fuglei
    • 3
  • Anna Y. Rodnikova
    • 1
    • 4
  • Barwolt S. Ebbinge
    • 5
  • Irina E. Menyushina
    • 6
  • Bart A. Nolet
    • 7
  • Ivan G. Pokrovsky
    • 1
    • 8
  • Igor Y. Popov
    • 9
  • Niels M. Schmidt
    • 10
  • Aleksandr A. Sokolov
    • 11
    • 12
  • Natalya A. Sokolova
    • 11
    • 12
  • Vasily A. Sokolov
    • 13
  1. 1.Department of Arctic and Marine BiologyUiT - The Arctic University of NorwayTromsøNorway
  2. 2.Canada Research Chair in Polar and Boreal Ecology, Department of BiologyUniversity of MonctonMonctonCanada
  3. 3.The Norwegian Polar InstituteFram CentreTromsøNorway
  4. 4.Faculty of Biology, Department of Vertebrate ZoologyLomonosov Moscow State UniversityMoscowRussia
  5. 5.Team Animal EcologyAlterra Wageningen URWageningenThe Netherlands
  6. 6.State Nature Reserve “Wrangel Island”PevekRussia
  7. 7.Department of Animal EcologyNetherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW)WageningenThe Netherlands
  8. 8.Department of Migration and Immuno-ecologyMax Planck Institute for OrnithologyRadolfzellGermany
  9. 9.Laboratory of Biogeocenology and Historical Ecology, A.N. Severtsov Institute of Ecology and EvolutionRussian Academy of SciencesMoscowRussia
  10. 10.Arctic Research Centre, Department of BioscienceAarhus UniversityRoskildeDenmark
  11. 11.Ecological Research Station, Institute of Plant and Animal EcologyUral Branch of Russian Academy of SciencesLabytnangiRussia
  12. 12. Science Center for Arctic StudiesState Organization of Yamal-Nenets Autonomous DistrictSalekhardRussia
  13. 13.Institute of Plant and Animal EcologyUral Branch of Russian Academy of SciencesEkaterinburgRussia

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