My main research interest lies in the reconstruction of Neogene paleolandscapes occupied by early hominins, and how our ancestors adapted to these habitats. I rely on extensive fieldwork and geochemical approaches including stable isotope data of hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen and oxygen, as well as clumped isotopes and multi-element analysis in a variety of proxy materials such as (fossil) tooth enamel and pedogenic carbonates. I focus on the wooded savannas of south-eastern Africa (Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa), while I am involved in archaeological, anthropological and paleoecological projects in Indonesia, Syria and Turkey. My goal is to understand the processes that link early hominin (dietary) adaptations to changes in the ecosystem they evolved in.
Information about an individual’s position in the food-web – and with it the incorporation of animal resources in its diet – is reflected in nitrogen isotope ratios (d15N) of organic tissues. To date, these data could only be determined in samples with sufficient amount of collagen, which has poor long-term preservation potential. While d15N has been measured in subfossil and fossil bones, such analyses have been limited to relatively young (typically <120 ka) and exceptionally well-preserved material. We now developed a new method that allows us to investigate nitrogen isotopic composition of enamel bound organic matter material as old as 150 Ma to determine trophic levels. Among others, such as modern African mammals and Mesozoic dinosaurs, I analyze nitrogen isotope data for Australopithecus from the Sterkfontein cave in southern Africa, which represents the first d15N data measured in any early hominin. This data provides a glimpse into the trophic behavior of Pleistocene hominin taxa.
The overarching goal of this project is to reconstruct (Plio-)Pleistocene paleotemperature, vegetation, precipitation and evaporation patterns of hominin localities in the southern part of the East African Rift (Karonga Basin, Malawi and Manyara Basin, Tanzania). I use hydrogen, carbon, oxygen and clumped isotopes on different proxies (fossil tooth enamel of fauna (including early hominins), pedogenic carbonate and modern meteoric waters), I then link these paleoecological patterns with the diet of early hominins Homo rudolfensis and Paranthropus boisei. Results are published in Lüdecke et al., 2018 (PNAS), Lüdecke et al., 2016 (JHE) and Lüdecke et al. 2016 (PPP).
As a research affiliate at the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, University of Oxford, I am the leading geochemist of the Paleo-Primate Project Gorongosa (PPG), Mozambique. The poorly-explored Gorongosa area is uniquely positioned in a large geographical gap between the well-studied hominin-yielding sites of the East African Rift in the north and the South African cave localities in the south. The overarching goal of the PPG is the reconstruction of the ecological and evolutionary history of the Gorongosa National Park region from the deep past to the present. Furthermore, the project focuses on primate adaptations to the complex environments of Gorongosa, both past and present. In the first four years of fieldwork, we discovered and started to excavate several fossil sites, which are some of the richest and well-preserved ones in the southern part of the East African Rift.
2021 – present
Post-Doctoral Researcher at the Climate Geochemistry Department, Max-Planck Institute for Chemistry (MPIC),Mainz, Germany (head: Prof. G. Haug)
2021 – present
Guest Scientist at Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (SBiK-F), Frankfurt, Germany. Group Paleoclimate and Paleoenvironmental Dynamics (head: Prof. A. Mulch)
2017 – present
Research Associate at the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, University of Oxford, England (host: Dr. S. Carvalho)
2016 – present
Geochemist for the Paleo-Primate-Project Gorongosa, reconstruction of paleoenvironments of the southern part of the East African Rift, Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique (PIs: Dr. S. Carvalho & Prof. R. Bobe)
2019 – 2020
Research Associate at the AMG laboratory, Max-Planck Institute for Chemistry (MPIC), Mainz, Germany (head: Dr. Alfredo Martínez García)
2017 – 2020
Post-Doctoral Researcher (DFG-funded), Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (SBiK-F), Frankfurt, Germany. Group Paleoclimate and Paleoenvironmental Dynamics (head: Prof. A. Mulch)
DFG-ICDP-Project personal grant (LU 2199/1 and /1-2): Early Hominin Adaptation in the Southern East African Rift – Plio-Pleistocene African temperature, ecosystem and early hominin diet patterns across a woodland-grassland savanna boundary
2016 – 2017
Post-Doctoral Researcher, Biomaterials and Biomimetics, College of Dentistry, New York University, New York City, USA. Method-development of simultaneous measurement of absolute concentrations of 71 elements in the periodic table (Li to U) via ICP-MS (head: Prof. T. Bromage)
2011 – 2016
PhD candidate, Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre, Frankfurt, Germany. Stable isotope-based reconstruction of Neogene terrestrial archives. Magna cum laude (supervisors: Prof. A. Mulch & Prof. F. Schrenk)
Goethe University, Frankfurt, Germany, Geosciences, Doctorate, 2016
Leibniz University, Hannover, Germany, Geosciences, Diploma, 2010
Martinez, F.I., Capelli, C., Ferreira da Silva, M.J., Aldeias, V., Alemseged, Z., Archer, W., Bamford, M., Biro, D., Bobe, R., Braun, D., Habermann, J.M., Lüdecke, T., Madiquida, H., Mathe, J., Negash, E., Paulo, L.M., Pinto, M., Stalmans, M., Tatá, F., Carvalho, S. A. (2019) A missing piece of the Papio puzzle: Gorongosa baboon phenostructure and intrageneric relationships. Journal of Human Evolution, 130, 1-20.
Ernst, M., Thiemeyer, H., Lüdecke, T. Stable isotope signatures of radiocarbon dated pedogenic carbonate from Tell Chuera (NE Syria) reveal fluctuating paleoenvironmental patterns in the Pleistocene Levant. In press at Zeitschrift für Geomorphologie, MS#553.
Habermann, J.M., Alberti, M., Aldeias, V., Alemseged, Z., Archer, W., Bamford, M., Biro, D., Braun, D.R., Capelli, C., Cunha, E., Ferreira da Silva, M., Lüdecke, T., Madiquida, H., Martinez, F.I., Mathe, J., Negash, E., Paulo, L.M., Pinto, M., Stalmans, M., Tatá, F., Wynn, J.G., Bobe, R., Carvalho, S. (2019). Gorongosa by the sea: First Miocene fossil sites from the Urema Rift, central Mozambique, and their coastal paleoenvironmental and paleoecological contexts. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 514, 723-738.
Lüdecke, T., Kullmer, O., Wacker, U., Sandrock, O., Fiebig, J., Schrenk, F., Mulch, A. (2018). Dietary Versatility of Early Pleistocene Hominins. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115, 13330-13335.
Bäuchle, M., Lüdecke, T., Rabieh, S., Calnek, K., Bromage, T.G. (2018). Quantification of 71 detected elements from Li to U for aqueous samples by simultaneous-inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry. Royal Society of Chemistry Advances, 8, 37008-37020.
Meijers, M.J.M., Brocard, G.Y., Cosca, M.A., Lüdecke, T., Teyssier, C., Whitney, D., Mulch, A. (2018). Rapid late Miocene surface uplift of the Central Anatolian Plateau margin. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 497, 29-41, doi:10.1016/j.epsl.2018.05.040
Lüdecke, T., Mulch, A., Kullmer, O., Sandrock, O., Thiemeyer, H., Fiebig, J., Schrenk, F. (2016). Stable isotope dietary reconstructions of herbivore enamel reveal heterogeneous savanna ecosystems in the Plio-Pleistocene Malawi Rift. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 459, 170–181.
Lüdecke, T., Schrenk, F., Thiemeyer, H., Kullmer, O., Bromage, T.G., Sandrock, O., Fiebig, J., Mulch, A. (2016). Persistent C3 vegetation accompanied Plio-Pleistocene hominin evolution in the Malawi Rift (Chiwondo Beds, Malawi). Journal of Human Evolution, 90, 163-175.
Fiebig, J., Hofmann, S., Löffler, N., Lüdecke, T., Methner, K., Wacker, U. (2015). Slight pressure imbalances can affect accuracy and precision of dual inlet-based clumped isotope analysis. Isotopes in Environmental and Health Studies, 16, 1-17.
Lüdecke, T., Thiemeyer, H. (2013). Palaeoenvironmental Characteristics of the Plio-Pleistocene Chiwondo and Chitimwe Beds (N-Malawi). In: Runge, J. Palaeoecology of Africa Vol. 32, 143-161. An International Yearbook of Landscape Evolution and Palaeoenvironments.
Lüdecke, T., Mikes, T., Rojay, B., Cosca, M.A., Mulch, A. (2013). Stable isotope-based reconstruction of Oligo-Miocene paleoenvironment and paleohydrology of Central Anatolian lake basins (Turkey). Turkish Journal of Earth Sciences, 22, 793-819.