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2022 | Urbanization and Wildlife Consumption in the Amazon

Ariel View of Streams

FACULTY SEED GRANT | Global Change Center

Using Stable Isotope Analyses to Understand the Relationship Between Urbanization and Wildlife Consumption in the Amazon

  • Dr. Willandia Chaves,  Fish and Wildlife Conservation
  • Dr. Rachel Reid, Geosciences
  • Dr. Benjamin Gill, Geosciences
  • Dr. Gabriela Nardoto, University of Brasilia, Brazil
  • Dr. Christy Mancuso, University of New Mexico


This study is funded jointly by the Global Change Center at Virginia Tech and the Institute for Society, Culture and Environment (ISCE).

The world is urbanizing at an unprecedented rate (4-7). Concomitantly, urban demand for natural resources is predicted to increase in the next decades. These patterns have implications for conservation and people, including increased pressure on biodiversity and worsening food insecurity. Understanding natural resource use in the context of rural-urban transitions is key to supporting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, especially those related to food security (Goal 2), sustainable cities (Goal 11), and sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems (Goal 15). We will look at human consumption of wildlife (e.g., mammals, birds, reptiles) for food in the Amazon to understand how urbanization affects natural resource use and how this use relates to food insecurity.

Assessing wildlife consumption accurately through self-reporting remains a major challenge because it is often an illegal activity. Specialized survey techniques were developed to increase accuracy of responses (12-14), but they require large sample sizes and may still present biases (13-15). We propose to test the use of stable isotope analyses as potential unbiased estimates of wildlife consumption. Using people’s fingernails and wildlife samples from the same region, we will combine bulk carbon (δ13C), nitrogen (δ15N), and sulfur (δ34S) isotope analyses with compound-specific C isotope analyses of individual amino acids to maximize accuracy of chemically differentiating the contribution of farmed, wild, aquatic, and terrestrial food sources to human diet.

We will use the results of the stable isotope analyses to test the relationship between socioeconomic factors and wildlife consumption. If successful, this technique will represent a major advance for assessing human use of wildlife as food. Bulk analyses have been used to describe human diet (e.g., wild versus farmed). However, this is the first attempt to use bulk (including ẟ34S) and compound-specific analyses to distinguish among wildlife (e.g., fish and other wildlife), and among farmed, wild, terrestrial, and aquatic resources.

Reference citations for project proposal description available upon request.