Variability in nitrogen-derived trophic levels of Arctic marine biota

RPJ Hoondert, NW van den Brink, MJ van den Heuvel-greve, AMJ Ragas, AJ Hendriks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Stable isotopes are often used to provide an indication of the trophic level (TL) of species. TLs may be derived by using food-web-specific enrichment factors in combination with a representative baseline species. It is challenging to sample stable isotopes for all species, regions and seasons in Arctic ecosystems, e.g. because of practical constraints. Species-specific TLs derived from a single region may be used as a proxy for TLs for the Arctic as a whole. However, its suitability is hampered by incomplete knowledge on the variation in TLs. We quantified variation in TLs of Arctic species by collating data on stable isotopes across the Arctic, including corresponding fractionation factors and baseline species. These were used to generate TL distributions for species in both pelagic and benthic food webs for four Arctic areas, which were then used to determine intra-sample, intra-study, intra-region and inter-region variation in TLs. Considerable variation in TLs of species between areas was observed. This is likely due to differences in parameter choice in estimating TLs (e.g. choice of baseline species) and seasonal, temporal and spatial influences. TLs between regions were higher than the variance observed within regions, studies or samples. This implies that TLs derived within one region may not be suitable as a proxy for the Arctic as a whole. The TL distributions derived in this study may be useful in bioaccumulation and climate change studies, as these provide insight in the variability of trophic levels of Arctic species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)119-131
Number of pages13
JournalPolar Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021


  • Arctic
  • Benthic food webs
  • Marine ecosystems
  • Pelagic food webs
  • Stable isotopes
  • Trophic ecology
  • Trophic level


Dive into the research topics of 'Variability in nitrogen-derived trophic levels of Arctic marine biota'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this