Applying the principles of isotope analysis in plant and animal ecology to forensic science in the Americas. Academic Article uri icon


  • The heart of forensic science is application of the scientific method and analytical approaches to answer questions central to solving a crime: Who, What, When, Where, and How. Forensic practitioners use fundamentals of chemistry and physics to examine evidence and infer its origin. In this regard, ecological researchers have had a significant impact on forensic science through the development and application of a specialized measurement technique-isotope analysis-for examining evidence. Here, we review the utility of isotope analysis in forensic settings from an ecological perspective, concentrating on work from the Americas completed within the last three decades. Our primary focus is on combining plant and animal physiological models with isotope analyses for source inference. Examples of the forensic application of isotopes-including stable isotopes, radiogenic isotopes, and radioisotopes-span from cotton used in counterfeit bills to anthrax shipped through the U.S. Postal Service and from beer adulterated with cheap adjuncts to human remains discovered in shallow graves. Recent methodological developments and the generation of isotope landscapes, or isoscapes, for data interpretation promise that isotope analysis will be a useful tool in ecological and forensic studies for decades to come.

published proceedings

  • Oecologia

altmetric score

  • 10.3

author list (cited authors)

  • Chesson, L. A., Barnette, J. E., Bowen, G. J., Brooks, J. R., Casale, J. F., Cerling, T. E., ... West, J. B.

citation count

  • 19

complete list of authors

  • Chesson, Lesley A||Barnette, Janet E||Bowen, Gabriel J||Brooks, J RenĂ©e||Casale, John F||Cerling, Thure E||Cook, Craig S||Douthitt, Charles B||Howa, John D||Hurley, Janet M||Kreuzer, Helen W||Lott, Michael J||Martinelli, Luiz A||O'Grady, Shannon P||Podlesak, David W||Tipple, Brett J||Valenzuela, Luciano O||West, Jason B

publication date

  • January 1, 2018 11:11 AM