The overall objective of the proposed project is to investigate how multiple natural and anthropogenic stressors have been impacting key-ecological and commercial species within the Baltic food web, from the individual to the population and ecosystem level. In order to determine cumulative ecosystem wide effects of hazardous substances on Baltic wildlife, BaltHealth will focus on the following:
- Ecosystem structure and food web dynamics: the Baltic food web varies spatiotemporally, which has important implications for nutrient, energy and contaminant exchange. Using state-of-the-art dietary tracers and energy modelling approaches, BaltHealth will improve knowledge about food web dynamics and biogeochemical cycling in the Baltic.
- Quantifying important legacy and emerging hazardous substances: hazardous substances have many point and diffuse sources into the environment and they further influenced by complex environmental partitioning and cycling. Furthermore, thousands of new chemicals are produced every year and new threats continually emerge. BaltHealth seeks to quantify the important legacy substances and identify unrestricted and emerging chemicals in the Baltic environment and wildlife species.
- Biomarkers of adverse health: many biomarkers of effects have been applied to certain species in specific sites around the world, though broader spatiotemporal patterns are rarely reported. Developing new non-invasive techniques for biomarkers and determining which markers best indicate population and ecosystem level effects are important for health assessment studies. BaltHealth aims to establish highly predictive biomarkers of population health and innovative in vitro techniques for multiple stressor impacts.
- Infectious disease ecology in the Baltic: the Baltic and neighbouring seas have been the location of several major viral outbreaks leading to the death of tens of thousands of seals over the past decades. BaltHealth will provide the first comprehensive survey of infectious and zoonotic diseases within important Baltic food webs and seeks to understand the epidemiology and ecology of pathogens within the environment, including interactions with other stressors.
- Multi-level and multiple stressor modelling: understanding health effects at the molecular, cellular and individual scale is both interesting and important. However, extrapolating that information to higher levels or biological organization is often difficult or impossible. Effects of multiple stressors on various levels of the food web are even less often attempted. BaltHealth seeks to combine food web dynamics, contaminant data, infectious diseases and health biomarkers into a comprehensive modelling framework to assess the combined effects of these important ecosystem stressors.