Dr. Thomas Larsen

Research Group Leader
Department of Archaeology
+49 3641 686-773

Main Focus

My research group, Anthropogenic Ecology, focuses on understanding the impact of human activities on ecosystems and the environment, while also exploring mitigation strategies through conservation and sustainable practices. My primary interest lies in examining how changes at the base of food webs affect the quality and quantity of essential nutrients transferred across these webs. This understanding enables us to characterize the complex interdependencies among species within ecosystems and identify critical pathways and processes involved in the biomagnification of anthropogenic contaminants.

To achieve my objectives, my research encompasses both methodological and applied components. I am a lead developer of a method called stable isotope fingerprinting of amino acids, a technique that addresses many challenges in reconstructing faunal and human diets and nutrition typically associated with traditional tracers. This method traces the biosynthetic origins of essential amino acids to algae, bacteria, fungi, and plants, making it ideal for identifying specific resource use and consumer dietary niches. The consistency of these fingerprints during trophic transfer, along with the preservation of amino acids in biological records, allows for in-depth investigations of diets and primary producers across time and space. Additionally, my team is investigating how changes in stable isotope values of non-essential amino acids during trophic transfer reveal insights into the macronutrient composition of consumer diets. These stable isotope methods are invaluable for characterizing and comparing past and present resource use and availability, e.g. by comparing modern and historical/archaeological biological records. Furthermore, I take a strong interest in other biomolecular techniques for understanding natural ecosystems and past lifeways, including the reconstruction of animal domestication, human demographics, and dairying practices.

My team also investigates the effects of climate change and human activities on marine food webs. Our objectives include comparing habitat use and dietary differentiation among species negatively affected by a warming climate, as well as understanding the trophic coupling between essential nutrients and contaminants like PFASs, also known as "forever chemicals," within food webs. We aim to test and predict these pathways under various global change scenarios, including elevated CO2 levels and rising temperatures.

The ultimate goal of these research efforts is to combine multiple lines of evidence, from lab-based studies to environmental monitoring and remote sensing data, in order to inform future environmental policies and strategies. By understanding the impacts of anthropogenic stressors on marine ecosystems, my team can contribute to the development of effective management and conservation measures that ensure the long-term health and productivity of these vital ecosystems.

Curriculum Vitae

I earned my M.Sc. in Biology from the Department of Zoology at Aarhus University and completed my Ph.D. in Ecology at the Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Copenhagen. My research career has taken me to diverse institutions across the globe, including the University of Alaska Fairbanks, University of California Santa Cruz, University of Aarhus, CEAB-CSIC Spain, and the University of Kiel. Currently, I am leading the Anthropogenic Ecology group at the Max Planck Institute of Geoanthropology.

Publications: See my Research Gate and Google Scholar profiles.

Research Projects

  • I am a co-lead investigator of a UK-German funded research project (2018-2021, EUR 750,000, NERC / BMBF) that examines the competitive interactions and foraging ecology between two closely related species of seabirds in the North Atlantic. We use a mix of location trackers and isotope biomarkers to investigate how northward shift in lipid-rich forage fish create ecosystem-wide cascade effects.
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