Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

The plentiful river

Ichthyoarchaeological and biomolecular research to assess the trophic ecology of the Rhine-Meuse delta in the Holocene

2021 - 2022
Laura Llorente Rodriguez
Leiden University Fund - Bakels Fund Leiden University Fund - Bakels Fund


The Rhine-Meuse delta is one of the most important riverine environments of the Netherlands but little is known on how much the current environment approaches the “original” ecology of the delta: human activities and important environmental and geo-morphological changes have been taking place for millenia. In order to understand how the human and climatic impacts affected such ecological interactions, this project explores the long-term evolution of food chains in the Rhine-Meuse delta for the first time. Studying the trophic ecology at different times will help to understand aquatic biotopes and productivity, resource availability, fishing strategies and seasonality through time.

Research question

Whereas faunal remains are routinely used to explore historical ecology, important biases need to be taken into account when studying the faunal record. Complementary methods, independent of the presence and frequency of taxa, can help to study past ecology in straightforward ways.  Recent advances in CSIA-AA analyses on archaeological fish collagen have been proved useful tools to reconstruct rudimentary food-webs that can be applied to millennial scales. Pairing those data with estimated total lengths of fish, a routine procedure in ichthyoarchaeology, allows a high-quality monitoring of ecological dynamics. 

Through a combined use of CSIA-AA analyses and estimated length of archaeological and modern specimens of Perch (Perca fluviatilis L.) and Northern pike (Esox lucius L.), abundant in the fish record, this project aims at examining human and environmental impacts in the Rhine delta through time. As predator species, they provide a broader overview of the trophic ecology and long-term changes on the structure and variability of food webs than producers and primary consumers do.

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