, Volume 146, Issue 1, pp 89-97
Date: 13 Jul 2005

Isotopic enrichment in herbivorous insects: a comparative field-based study of variation

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Researchers will be able to use stable isotope analysis to study community structure in an efficient way, without a need for extensive calibrations, if isotopic enrichment values are consistent, or if variation in enrichment values can be predicted. In this study, we generated an experimental data set of δ15N and δ13C enrichment means for 22 terrestrial herbivorous arthropods feeding on 18 different host plants. Mean enrichments observed across a single trophic transfer (plants to herbivores) were −0.53±0.26‰ for δ13C (range: −3.47‰ to 1.89‰) and 1.88±0.37‰ for δ15N (range: −0.20‰ to 6.59‰). The mean δ13C enrichment was significantly lower than that reported in recent literature surveys, whereas the mean δ15N enrichment was not significantly different. The experimental data set provided no support for recent hypotheses advanced to explain variation in enrichment values, including the proposed roles for consumer feeding mode, development type, and diet C:N ratio. A larger data set, formed by combining our experimental data with data from the literature, did suggest possible roles for feeding mode, nitrogen recycling, herbivore life stage, and host plant type. Our results indicate that species enrichment values are variable even in this relatively narrow defined group of organisms and that our ability to predict enrichment values of terrestrial herbivorous arthropods based on physiological, ecological, or taxonomic traits is low. The primary implications are that (1) mean enrichment may have to be measured empirically for each trophic link of interest, rather than relying on estimates from a broad survey of animal taxa and (2) the advantage of using stable isotope analysis to probe animal communities that are recalcitrant to other modes of study will be somewhat diminished as a consequence.

Communicated by Carlos Martinez del Rio