, Volume 53, Issue 3, pp 374-381

The role of coprophagy in the feeding strategies of terrestrial isopods

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Summary

The hypothesis that faeces recycling in isopods evolved as an adaption to facilitate maintenance of an adequate copper balance in terrestrial environments is examined. Experimental observations on the consumption, absorption and growth rates of Porcellio scaber fed Betula pendula leaf litter varying in copper content and extent of microbial decay are reported. Preventing the isopods from reingesting their faeces caused a reduction in the growth rates of experimental animals fed their natural low copper diet but also of those fed copper enriched diets. When the availability of copper in the primary food was increased consumption of the litter decreased and growth rates were significantly reduced. These results suggest that copper is not normally a critically limiting nutrient for terrestrial isopods.

When the primary diet was supplemented with shredded carrot, faeces deprivation did not cause a decrease in growth rates. These experimental animals gained weight significantly faster than controls fed decaying leaf litter alone.

Faeces formed a significantly greater proportion of the diet when the animals were fed freshly fallen rather than decayed litter.

We conclude a) that enhanced microbial activity in the faeces increases their nutrient status in such a way that some coprophagy is necessary in order to optimize overall nutrient uptake, and b) that theability to vary the extent to which faeces are recycled in response to differences in food quality is important in that it introduces greater flexibility into the feeding strategies of these generalist macro-decomposers.