Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research
Tenure track Scientist
  • Trophic Ecology
  • Benthos
  • Primary consumers

Dr. Eleonora Puccinelli

Tenure track Scientist

‘On the origin of omega-3 fatty acids’

Marine ecologist Eleonora Puccinelli studies the origin and the routing of the much-appreciated omega-3 fatty acids. “It’s not only humans that value these important fatty acids in their diets. They are important to sea birds and to other consumers of fish as well. Therefore, it is also important to understand how they are formed and how phenomena such as climate change or human pollution of the environment affect the production of these omega-3 fatty acids.”

Basis of many food chains

“Omega-3 fatty acids are produced by phytoplankton: tiny, single cell plants that are the basis of many food chains in the marine environment. There are many different omega-3 fatty acids, which are produced by specific groups of plankton. Therefore, you can use these fatty acids a ‘biomarker’. If you know which fatty acids are in the body of a particular animal, it will tell you which plankton group was at the basis of its food chain.”

Global warming of omega-3 production

“The warming of the climate will affect the growth and the presence of specific species of phytoplankton. Therefore, the warming of the climate may also affect the production of the important omega-3 fatty acids in a particular ecosystem.  With my PhDs, I hope to find out what these potential effects may be. With a Women In Science Excel - grant that I received from NWO in 2023, my first PhD, Jorge Lazo Andrade is already working on the baseline of that work: what types of phytoplankton are present in the North Sea right now and which fatty acids are produced by these organisms?”

Too many nutrients

“It is not just the climate that affects the production of omega-3 fatty acids. The amount and quality of nitrogen also plays an important role. In the North Sea, this nitrogen comes, for a substantial part, from the shores, where it washes off agricultural land. It is important to understand the influence of these ‘human originated’ nutrients as well, if we want to understand and protect the important sources of omega-3 fatty acids; for ourselves and other fish-consumers as well.”

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I am a marine ecologist working on the trophodynamic structure and functioning of intertidal and offshore habitats and communities. My research integrates ecological and biochemical expertise to understand the effects of climate change and other anthropogenic stressors on natural systems, and to generate the process knowledge needed to create and implement solutions to these threats. My main focus is to understand how bottom-up and top-down processes impact on primary consumers, particularly macrozoobenthos and pelagic zooplankton. Specifically, I am very interested in understanding how processes that affect phytoplankton communities translate into effects on primary consumers, focusing on the nitrogen (N) cycle. Core pillars of my research integrate field campaigns, laboratory experiments and cutting-edge biochemical techniques such as stable isotope (SI) and fatty acid (FA) analyses. I have used these methods to fill gaps in knowledge on the biodiversity x climate crises such as how natural variability in physical and biogeochemical processes control primary consumers as well as how pollution affects coastal habitats and food webs.

Visit my website here


Linked news

Tuesday 19 December 2023
WISE award for Eleonora Puccinelli
With the WISE fellowship, Eleonora Puccinelli’s objective is to elucidate pathways of omega-3 production and transfer from primary producers (phytoplankton) to higher trophic levels, with a particular focus on pelagic zooplankton in the Wadden…

Linked blogs

Monday 19 June 2023
ACTNOW Expedition June 2023
The 10 day cruise to sample the Doggers bank is organised in the framework of the EU project ACTNOW*. The aim is to collect data on different elements of the food web simultaneously: from phytoplankton (the small “plants” in the sea) via grazing…

Linked projects

ACTNOW_Advancing understanding of Cumulative Impacts on European marine biodiversity
Myron Peck
European Community
Project duration
1 Jan 2023 - 31 Dec 2026