Ecological stoichiometry of indirect grazer effects on periphyton nutrient content
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- Hillebrand, H., Frost, P. & Liess, A. Oecologia (2008) 155: 619. doi:10.1007/s00442-007-0930-9
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Ecological stoichiometry has been successful in enhancing our understanding of trophic interactions between consumer and prey species. Consumer and prey dynamics have been shown to depend on the nutrient composition of the prey relative to the nutrient demand of the consumer. Since most experiments on this topic used a single consumer species, little is known about the validity of stoichiometric constraints on trophic interactions across consumers and ecosystems. We conducted a quantitative meta-analysis on grazer–periphyton experiments to test (1) if benthic grazers have consistent effects on the nutrient composition of their prey, and (2) whether these effects can be aligned to the nutrient stoichiometry of grazer and periphyton, other environmental factors, or experimental constraints. Grazers significantly lowered periphyton C:N and C:P ratios, indicating higher N- and P-content of grazed periphyton across studies. Grazer presence on average increased periphyton N:P ratios, but across studies the effect size did not differ significantly from zero. The sign and strength of grazer effects on periphyton nutrient ratios was strongly dependent on the nutrient content of grazers and their food, but also on grazer biomass, the amount of biomass removal and water column nutrients. Grazer with low P-content tended to reduce periphyton P-content, whereas grazers with high P-content increased periphyton P-content. This result suggests that low grazer P-content can be an indication of physiological P-limitation rather than a result of having relatively low and fixed P-requirements. At the across-system scale of this meta-analysis, predictions from stoichiometric theory are corroborated, but the plasticity of the consumer nutrient composition has to be acknowledged.