Using biogeochemical tracers across Earth’s surface to quantify critical ecosystem processes

To effectively conserve natural resources, we must understand how energy and matter flow through complex ecosystems. The challenge is that it is very difficult to observe, let alone quantify, the large range of spatial and temporal scales shaping how organic carbon or nutrients, for example, are transported versus processed through river networks; or how biological production shifts across vast landscapes through time. But, these processes underpin the resources we, and the broader biological communities on Earth, depend on. Geochemical tracers across Earth’s surface, such as isotope ratios, act as integrators of the processes controlling how water, carbon, nutrients, and contaminants are routed or transformed through ecosystems. They can also act as GPS-like trackers of how mobile species exploit variable landscapes. Our research integrates biogeochemistry, quantitative modeling, and field ecology to better understand these cryptic dynamics of ecosystems and how they influence critical ecosystem services (e.g. fisheries).