Zoogeochemistry: Alchemists of the Wild



Large wildlife, as a sort of “wild alchemists”, redistribute and mobilize nutrients across and beyond the boundaries of ecosystems, turning dung into gold & engineering landscapes in ways that keep surprising scientists. These fascinating influences of wildlife on biogeochemical cycles are studied by Zoogeochemistry, an exciting new branch of biogeochemistry research. It is anchored in the premise that animals do not necessarily eat, defecate and die in the same place. As such they can deplete, replenish and transport chemical elements that are essential for life, such as carbon and nutrients, and thereby modify resource landscapes and entire ecosystems. The influence of wildlife on shaping nutrient landscapes is only just starting to attract attention, with recent case-studies revealing intriguing new patterns and insights. Many of these insights (see next paragraph) have been uncovered by the applicants of this proposal, who have diverse, yet complimentary track-records studying a variety of species across many different landscapes and ecosystems. For example, large savanna herbivores mobilize and transport nutrients differentially among habitats, creating heterogeneous patterns of nutrient accumulation and depletion, whilst in tropical forests large mammals and birds modulate nutrient cycling influencing carbon storage. Mass die-offs of migrating wildebeest in the Masai Mara and hippos going about their daily lives, link the aquatic to the terrestrial biogeochemical cycles, thereby sustaining essential diatom populations in the river systems. Animals also move nutrients against abiotic gradients, such as anadromous fish (e.g. salmon) that move nutrients upstream, where these nutrients are subsequently further distributed to terrestrial systems through predators. Even in the oceans, large animals like whales and sharks, and large aggregations of fish schools, transport nutrients worldwide. As is the case in emerging fields, we are evolving into a crucial phase where building of concepts and first empirical evidence need to crystalize into a more thorough and fundamental process understanding, in order to enable e.g. incorporating such processes in global nutrient and carbon cycling models. Now is the moment to build a collaborative network to share ideas and strategies and to promote cross-ecosystem comparisons, in order to efficiently merge all available knowledge. We aim to create the momentum necessary to bring zoogeochemistry into mainstream ecological research, and achieve a knowledge build-up that creates energy for the emergence of a critical mass of researchers in zoogeochemistry. We will organize a series of activities designed to draw attention to the relevance of zoogeochemistry, including 1) an international symposium specifically dedicated to zoogeochemistry topics; 2) a special issue in a world-class ecological journal, based on the work discussed at the symposium, 3) a high-profile synthetic review of the state-of-the art, available evidence, case studies and conceptual frameworks in zoogeochemistry research; 4) an international postgraduate-level workshop on zoogeochemistry. These specific activities will top the intra-network interaction as defined later. Our overarching vision for this network is to create a platform for collaboration that will promote coordinated, multi-site research projects that will allow for student exchange between systems and participants, cross-disciplinary knowledge exchange and joint funding application development to scale up the impact and reach of zoogeochemistry research.
Effectieve start/einddatum01/01/202331/12/2026


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