Stoichiometry and planktonic grazer composition over gradients of light, nutrients, and predation risk
Hall, Spencer R.
Leibold, Mathew A.
Lytle, David A.
Smith, Val H.
the Ecological Society of America
Scholarly/refereed, publisher version
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Mechanisms that explain shifts in species composition over environmental gradients continue to intrigue ecologists. Ecological stoichiometry has recently provided a new potential mechanism linking resource (light and nutrient) supply gradients to grazer performance via elemental food-quality mechanisms. More specifically, it predicts that light and nutrient gradients should determine the relative dominance of P-rich taxa, such as Daphnia, in grazer assemblages. We tested this hypothesis in pond mesocosms (cattle tanks) by creating gradients of resource supply and predation risk, to which we added diverse assemblages of algal producer and zooplankton grazer species. We then characterized the end-point composition of grazer assemblages and quantity and elemental food quality of edible algae. We found that somatically P-rich Daphnia only dominated grazer assemblages in high-nutrient, no-predator treatments. In these ecosystems, P sequestered in producers exceeded a critical concentration. However, other grazers having even higher body P content did not respond similarly. These grazers were often abundant in low-nutrient environments with poorer food quality. At face value, this result is problematic for ecological stoichiometry because body composition did not correctly predict response of these other species. However, two potential explanations could maintain consistency with stoichiometric principles: species could differentially use a high-P resource (bacteria), or body composition might not always directly correlate with nutrient demands of grazers. Although our data cannot differentiate between these explanations, both suggest potential avenues for future empirical and theoretical study.
Hall, S. R., Leibold, M. A., Lytle, D. A., & Smith, V. H. (2004). Stoichiometry and planktonic grazer composition over gradients of light, nutrients, and predation risk. Ecology, 85(8), 2291–2301. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/03-0471
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