Does diet influence consumer nutrient cycling? Macroinvertebrate and fish excretion in streams

Ryan A. McManamay, Jackson R. Webster, H. Maurice Valett, C. Andrew Dolloff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Consumer nutrient cycling supplies limiting elements to autotrophic and heterotrophic organisms in aquatic systems. However, the role of consumers in supplying nutrients may change depending on their diet and their own stoichiometry. We evaluated the stoichiometry, N and P excretion, and diets of the dominant macroinvertebrates and fish at 6 stream sites to determine if the nutritional composition of food alters nutrient excretion. We used Sterner's (1990) nutrient homeostasis model as a reference to gauge whether consumer nutrient excretion is influenced by diet. Body stoichiometry explained 61% of the variation in N:P excretion by macroinvertebrates but only 11% of the variation for fish. In both cases, the relationship was driven by 2 P-rich end-members, crayfish and mottled sculpin. Results of Akaike Information Criterion (AIC) analysis showed that family alone explained 71% of the variation in N:P excretion in macroinvertebrates and 31% of the variation in fish. Diet explained only 8% of the variation in both cases. Most consumers (9 of 11) had N:P excretion values that were well below predictions of Sterner's model. Two taxa, crayfish and sculpin, had N:P excretion that overlapped the model's predictions. Our results suggest that crayfish and sculpin may display strict homeostasis with respect to N and P and that their growth might be P-limited. Other consumers may be more flexible in their stoichiometry and not P-limited. We speculate that the extremely low excretion N:P measured for many consumers might have been the result of semiflexible homeostasis, inaccuracies in our assessment of dietary nutrients, growth-limiting nutrients other than N or P, or lack of egestion data. Our results suggest that crayfish and sculpin may alter N and P dynamics in streams by excreting low amounts of P relative to N compared to what is generally available in the water column.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)84-102
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of the North American Benthological Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2011


  • Stoichiometry
  • consumers
  • excretion
  • nutrient cycling
  • stream


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