Meet REXSAC PhD students: Christian Fohringer

Discover the ninth episode of our Q&A series with REXSAC PhD students. This time meet Christian Fohringer, a PhD student at the Department of Wildlife, Fish and Environmental Studies at SLU in Umeå, Sweden. His work deals with the identification of the main drivers associated with land use and climate change and how they affect large animal movements in Swedish Sápmi.

What drew you to the area/topic of your studies?

I have been fascinated by animals ever since I can remember and feel privileged to be able to translate this fascination into my professional life. I have been drawn to ecological processes in extreme – in particular alpine and Arctic – environments throughout my undergraduate studies, which certainly contributed to my interest and fit in this project. During the course of my PhD training my interest and expertise in topics revolving around the expression of environmental stress at the biomolecular level has grown tremendously. Since the rate of environmental change (linked to the intensity of environmental stress responses) is particularly high in the Arctic, I will likely continue to be drawn to this context.


What are the objectives of your work?

Ultimately, I want my work to contribute to our understanding of how Arctic specialists adapt to the various stressors (e.g. climate change or pollution) that they experience in their biome. I aim to achieve this by evaluating various biomolecular approaches for their suitability to detect environmental stress responses. Moreover, I combine resulting biomarkers of stress with information on land use and climate change as well as local and indigenous knowledge and animal behavior (i.e. via GPS-data) at high spatiotemporal resolution. The integration of this array of approaches intends to determine where and when animals and ecosystems are most vulnerable to environmental change. Eventually, I hope for my work to provide tools and guidelines that can aid species and habitat protection in my study area and beyond.


How does it support the objectives and work of REXSAC?

Understanding the response of animals and communities that depend on their mobility is a key aim of RT2 of REXSAC that my work contributes to. By providing guidelines for holistic assessments of cumulative impacts, I hope that my work within REXSAC will help restore the power imbalance experienced by the reindeer herding community facing extractive industries.


What has been your learnings or reflections from the REXSAC field-based coursework?

Through REXSAC field-based coursework I was able to immerse myself in science conducted in the Arctic from disciplines beyond my department’s expertise. I have had access to places and communities that have enriched my understanding of the implications and complexity that come with the exploitation of extractive resources, the marginalization of local and indigenous communities, negligence and lack of claims of former mines and their waste, differences between policies and the distribution of ore as well as its marketing. Most importantly perhaps, the exposure I have had to industrial stakeholders have made me hyper-aware of the interconnectedness of processes revolving around resource extraction and how we are all part of it.


What are your career aspirations?

Inspired by my current research, I would like to continue investigating Arctic animal’s responses to environmental stress at the biomolecular level. Through REXSAC’s interdisciplinary nature, I have learnt to appreciate the power of bridging disciplines and I believe that this will be key in my way forward in order to fully comprehend the health status of Arctic ecosystems and beyond. I hope to become an expert in the identification of bioindicators that will help us to predict where and when the resilience potential of Arctic communities is at risk. I want to be on the forefront of scientists daring to utilize an array of approaches across disciplines and maybe build my own lab on the process of doing so.


About Author

Christian Fohringer Christian Fohringer

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences Umeå