Dietary phosphate affects food selection, post-ingestive phosphorus fate, and performance of a polyphagous herbivore

Arianne J. Cease, Michelle Fay, James J. Elser, Jon F. Harrison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Comparisons of the carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus (P) content of plants and insect herbivores suggests that P limitation and herbivore foraging to balance P intake could be common. However, the lack of synthetic diets for testing the effects of lower ranges of dietary P has been a major impediment to experimental assessment of the ecological importance of, and physiological responses to, P limitation for terrestrial herbivores. We manipulated dietary P content (%P) over its observed range in terrestrial foliage using artificial diets containing near-optimal content of other nutrients for the grasshopper Schistocerca americana. Over much of the ecologically relevant range, when consuming single diets over a lifetime, higher P stimulated growth rates and increased survival, with an optimal dietary %P of 0.25-0.50% when measured throughout development. Excessive dietary P (1%) reduced growth and survival. However, with only short-term (3 day) confinement to single diets, dietary P had no effect on food consumption or growth rates. During these short exposures, fifth (but not third) instar hoppers increased the proportion of P excreted relative to P assimilated as dietary P increased. Target experiments demonstrated that, when given a choice, grasshoppers select among foods to attain a P intake target of 0.6%. These data suggest that P limitation could be common for terrestrial insect herbivores and that they can exhibit ingestive and post-ingestive mechanisms to attain sufficient but not excessive P.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)64-72
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016


  • Diet choice
  • Ecological stoichiometry
  • Geometric framework
  • Grasshopper
  • Phosphate
  • Synthetic diet


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