, Volume 470, Issue 1–3, pp 63–95 | Cite as

Chitin production by arthropods in the hydrosphere

  • Henry-Michel Cauchie


Chitin is widely distributed in nature and its annual production is thought to be huge. However, the chitin production has been rarely estimated in aquatic ecosystems, despite the growing economic interest in this polymer. Arthropods are one of the main chitin producers in the hydrosphere and a correct evaluation of the chitin production by these organisms in the different marine and freshwater ecosystems is of prime interest to understand their importance in the biogeochemical cycles of carbon and nitrogen. Such evaluation is also worth considering to achieve a rational exploitation of crustaceans which are currently the major source of chitin for the industry. Annual chitin production of crustaceans and insects in aquatic ecosystems was estimated on the basis of annual tissue production estimates and body chitin content measurements. About 800 annual tissue production estimates were collected from the literature. Estimates mainly concerned continental fresh waters and neritic ecosystems. Data were almost inexistent for athalassohaline and oceanic ecosystems. On the whole, 60% of the production estimates fell between 0.1 and 10.0 g dry weight m−2 yr−1. Published chitin levels in crustaceans and insects ranged from 3 to 16% of the whole body dry weight. Data were, however, lacking for some major groups such as trichopterans or amphipods. Aquatic insects and crustaceans were therefore collected and assayed for chitin using a highly specific enzymatic method. The chitin content of the collected insects (Coleoptera, Diptera, Ephemeroptera, Odonata, Plecoptera, Trichoptera) varied from 3 to 10% of the whole body dry weight; that of the collected crustaceans (Amphipoda, Branchiopoda, Copepoda) from 2.5 to 8.5% of the whole body dry weight. Total annual chitin production by arthropods had been estimated to 28 × 106 T chitin yr−1 for the freshwater ecosystems, to 6 × 106 T chitin yr−1 for athalassohaline ecosystems and to 1328 × 106 T chitin yr−1 for marine ecosystems. The importance of the chitin production corresponding to the formation of exuviae and peritrophic membranes in arthropods and the chitin production by non-arthropod organisms in the chitin budget of aquatic ecosystems was highlighted and discussed.

crustacea insecta chitin secondary production aquatic resources 


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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Henry-Michel Cauchie
    • 1
  1. 1.Laboratory of Animal Ecology and EcotoxicologyUniversity of LiègeLiègeBelgium

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