Deviation from strict homeostasis across multiple trophic levels in an invertebrate consumer assemblage exposed to high chronic phosphorus enrichment in a Neotropical stream
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A central tenet of ecological stoichiometry is that consumer elemental composition is relatively independent of food resource nutrient content. Although the P content of some invertebrate consumer taxa can increase as a consequence of P-enriched food resources, little is known about how ecosystem nutrient loading can affect the elemental composition of entire consumer assemblages. Here we examine the potential for P enrichment across invertebrate consumer assemblages in response to chronic high P loading. We measured elemental ratios in invertebrate consumers and basal food resources in a series of streams in lowland Costa Rica that range widely in P levels (2-135 μg l−1 soluble reactive P). Streams with high P levels receive natural long-term (over millennia) inputs of solute-rich groundwater while low-P streams do not receive these solute-rich groundwater inputs. P content of leaf litter and epilithon increased fourfold across the natural P gradient, exceeding basal resource P content values reported in the literature from other nutrient-rich streams. Invertebrate consumers from the high-P study stream were elevated twofold in P content across multiple taxonomic and functional feeding groups, including predators. Our results strongly support the hypothesis that elevated P content in consumers feeding on P-enriched food resources is a consequence of deviation from strict homeostasis. In contrast to prior studies, we found that between-stream variation in P content of a given taxon greatly exceeded within-stream variation among different taxa, suggesting that environment may be as important as phylogeny in controlling consumer stoichiometry. Relaxing the assumption of strict homeostasis presents challenges and opportunities for advancing our understanding of how nutrient limitation affects consumer growth. Moreover, our findings may provide a window into the future of how chronic anthropogenic nutrient loading can alter stoichiometric relationships in food webs.