, Volume 146, Issue 2, pp 247-257
Date: 17 Aug 2005

Nutrient recycling by two phosphorus-rich grazing catfish: the potential for phosphorus-limitation of fish growth

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Abstract

In ecosystems where excretion by fish is a major flux of nutrients, the nitrogen (N) to phosphorus (P) ratio released by fish can be important in shaping patterns of algal biomass, community composition, primary production, and nutrient limitation. Demand for N and P as well as energy influences N/P excretion ratios and has broad implications in ecosystems where nutrient recycling by fishes is substantial. Bioenergetics and stoichiometric models predict that natural fish populations are generally energy-limited and therefore N/P recycling by fishes is relatively invariant. Yet, the potential for P limitation of growth has not been examined in herbivorous fishes, which are common in many aquatic habitats. We examined N/P excretion ratios and P demand in two P-rich herbivorous catfishes of the family Loricariidae, Ancistrus triradiatus (hereafter Ancistrus) and Chaetostoma milesi (hereafter Chaetostoma). Both fishes are common grazers in the Andean piedmont region of Venezuela where we conducted this study. Mass balance (MB) models indicate that these fishes have a high P demand. In fact, our Ancistrus’ P MB model predicted negative P excretion rates, indicating that Ancistrus did not consume enough P to meet its P demand for growth. Direct measurement of excretion rates showed positive, but very low P excretion rates and high N/P excretion ratios for both taxa. To obtain measured P excretion rates of Ancistrus from the MB model, gross growth efficiency must be reduced by 90%. Our results suggest that growth rates of both of these herbivorous and P-rich fish are likely P-limited. If P limitation of growth is common among herbivorous fish populations, herbivorous fishes recycle likely at high N/P ratios and act to diminish the quality of their food.