University of Copenhagen, Globe Institute

Research field

Palaeogenomics and palaeoecology

Contact info


Research leader

Eline Lorenzen

Associate Professor, PhD in Biology, born 1977

Project title

Arctic marine mammals in a post Arctic world

What is your project about?

This project will investigate past populations of three Arctic marine mammal species: polar bear, narwhal and beluga. Using a combination of cutting-edge ancient DNA methodologies and stable isotope analysis, we will analyze an exceptional assemblage of hundreds of radiocarbon dated subfossil remains (bone and teeth). The samples have been collected across the Arctic region and span 50,000 years of evolutionary history. By contrasting insights from palaeogenomics (ancient DNA) and palaeoecology (stable isotopes) with high-resolution palaeoclimate records, we will open a window into the past and investigate how previous environmental shifts impacted each of these species. Ultimately, our results will enable us to better predict the resilience of each species to near-future predictions of climate change.

How did you become interested in your particular field of research?

Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution. That's pretty much how I felt when I took an Evolution course in my second year of studying biology. I was fascinated to learn how DNA can be used to study relationships within and among species, and to understand the history of populations past. Already as an undergraduate, I was extremely fortunate and priviledged to meet and work with world-leading researchers in the field, who have inspired, motivated and mentored me since to pursue my research programme and a career in academia. 

What are the scientific challenges and perspectives in your project?

The main scientific challenge in this project is whether there is any DNA in the subfossil faunal remians. We shall soon find out. The power of this proposal lies in the interdisciplinary study of several co-distributed species; each is a critical component of the Arctic ecosystem and an indicator species of the response of Arctic mammalian fauna to climatic perturbations. By understanding past evolutionary and ecological responses across species, we will provide crucial information on their resilience, and thereby that of Arctic marine ecosystems, to near-future predictions of climate change.

What is your estimate of the impact, which your project may have to society in the long term?

The focus of this project is three indicator species of Arctic marine ecosystems: polar bears, narwhals and belugas. Each species is a top predator and is hugely important to the cultural heritage and subsistence economies of communities across the Arctic region. This project will provide the first long-term data on the response of these ednemic marine mammal species to climate change, elucidating their resilience to near-future rapid environmental shifts. Crucially, our results will provide knowledge for the science-based, informed management and conservation of these species, and is therefore of direct relevance to the communities across the Arctic that rely on these species for their livelihoods.

Which impact do you expect the Sapere Aude programme will have on your career as a researcher?

Receiving a grant from the Sapere Aude programme is a major recognition, and I am so grateful. The funding will enable me to open up a new research horizon in palaeogenomics and Polar research, cementing my strong network of collaborations across the Arctic range countries. Also, the grant will help me consolidate my research group and improve the visibility of our work both in Denmark and abroad. Crucially, this Sapere Aude grant will allow me to meet one of the grand challenges of the Arctic region: how Arctic marine mammals will fare in a post Arctic world.

Background and personal life

I live with my partner and our three children Embla (6 yrs), Lauge (18 mo) and little Mio, who was born two days before my Sapere Aude interview. I love the outdoors, going to the cinema, and listening to talk radio. I used to be active in all sorts of ways, with lots of sports and hobbies, but now I'm happy if we can just manage get the kids out for a short walk in the woods behind our house during the weekends. In theory I love to travel, but the thought of getting on a flight with three kids has given me renewed appreciation of the joys of holidaying in Denmark. So I only travel for conferences.

City of your current residence

Nærum in Rudersdal

High school

Øregård Gymnasium