The role of animals in modulating nutrient cycling [hereafter, consumer-driven nutrient dynamics (CND)] has been accepted as an important influence on both community structure and ecosystem function in aquatic systems. Yet there is great variability in the influence of CND across species and ecosystems, and the causes of this variation are not well understood. Here, we review and synthesize the mechanisms behind CND in fresh waters. We reviewed 131 articles on CND published between 1973 and 1 June 2015. The rate of new publications in CND has increased from 1.4 papers per year during 1973-2002 to 7.3 per year during 2003-2015. The majority of investigations are in North America with many concentrating on fish. More recent studies have focused on animal-mediated nutrient excretion rates relative to nutrient demand and indirect impacts (e.g. decomposition). We identified several mechanisms that influence CND across levels of biological organization. Factors affecting the stoichiometric plasticity of consumers, including body size, feeding history and ontogeny, play an important role in determining the impact of individual consumers on nutrient dynamics and underlie the stoichiometry of CND across time and space. The abiotic characteristics of an ecosystem affect the net impact of consumers on ecosystem processes by influencing consumer metabolic processes (e.g. consumption and excretion/egestion rates), non-CND supply of nutrients and ecosystem nutrient demand. Furthermore, the transformation and transport of elements by populations and communities of consumers also influences the flow of energy and nutrients across ecosystem boundaries. This review highlights that shifts in community composition or biomass of consumers and eco-evolutionary underpinnings can have strong effects on the functional role of consumers in ecosystem processes, yet these are relatively unexplored aspects of CND. Future research should evaluate the value of using species traits and abiotic conditions to predict and understand the effects of consumers on ecosystem-level nutrient dynamics across temporal and spatial scales. Moreover, new work in CND should strive to integrate knowledge from disparate fields of ecology and environmental science, such as physiology and ecosystem ecology, to develop a comprehensive and mechanistic understanding of the functional role of consumers. Comparative and experimental studies that develop testable hypotheses to challenge the current assumptions of CND, including consumer stoichiometric homeostasis, are needed to assess the significance of CND among species and across freshwater ecosystems.
Fishes can play important functional roles in the nutrient dynamics of freshwater systems. Aggregating fishes have the potential to generate areas of increased biogeochemical activity, or hotspots, in streams and rivers. Many of the studies documenting the functional role of fishes in nutrient dynamics have focused on native fish species; however, introduced fishes may restructure nutrient storage and cycling freshwater systems as they can attain high population densities in novel environments. The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of a non-native catfish (Loricariidae: Pterygoplichthys) on nitrogen and phosphorus remineralization and estimate whether large aggregations of these fish generate measurable biogeochemical hotspots within nutrient-limited ecosystems. Loricariids formed large aggregations during daylight hours and dispersed throughout the stream during evening hours to graze benthic habitats. Excretion rates of phosphorus were twice as great during nighttime hours when fishes were actively feeding; however, there was no diel pattern in nitrogen excretion rates. Our results indicate that spatially heterogeneous aggregations of loricariids can significantly elevate dissolved nutrient concentrations via excretion relative to ambient nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations during daylight hours, creating biogeochemical hotspots and potentially altering nutrient dynamics in invaded systems.
Trade of ornamental aquatic species is a multi-billion dollar industry responsible for the introduction of myriad fishes into novel ecosystems. Although aquarium invaders have the potential to alter ecosystem function, regulation of the trade is minimal and little is known about the ecosystem-level consequences of invasion for all but a small number of aquarium species. Here, we demonstrate how ecological stoichiometry can be used as a framework to identify aquarium invaders with the potential to modify ecosystem processes. We show that explosive growth of an introduced population of stoichiometrically unique, phosphorus (P)-rich catfish in a river in southern Mexico significantly transformed stream nutrient dynamics by altering nutrient storage and remineralization rates. Notably, changes varied between elements; the P-rich fish acted as net sinks of P and net remineralizers of nitrogen. Results from this study suggest species-specific stoichiometry may be insightful for understanding how invasive species modify nutrient dynamics when their population densities and elemental composition differ substantially from native organisms. Risk analysis for potential aquarium imports should consider species traits such as body stoichiometry, which may increase the likelihood that an invasion will alter the structure and function of ecosystems.
1. Migrations of animals can transfer energy and nutrients through and among terrestrial and aquatic habitats. Pool-breeding amphibians, such as the wood frog (Lithobates sylvaticus), make annual breeding migrations to ephemeral wetlands in forest habitats in the eastern and midwestern United States and Canada. 2. To model the influence of wood frogs on nutrient transport and transformation through time, we coupled long-term population monitoring data from a wood frog population with estimates of the elemental composition of wood frog egg masses and emerging juveniles. 3. Over the 21-year study period, 8.8 kg carbon (C), 2.0 kg nitrogen (N) and 0.20 kg phosphorus (P) were transported from the terrestrial to the aquatic habitat and approximately 21 kg C, 5.5 kg N and 1.2 kg P were exported to the surrounding terrestrial habitat by wood frogs. 4. During the study period, the average net flux of C, N and P was from aquatic to terrestrial habitats, but the magnitude and direction of the net flux was element dependent. Thus, the net flux of C, N and P did not always flow in the same direction. 5. Predicting long-term trends in nutrient and energy flux by organisms with biphasic life cycles should rely on long-term population data to account for temporal variability. This is especially true for organisms that are sensitive to long-term shifts in temperature and precipitation patterns, such as amphibians that breed in ephemeral pools.
Many animals in the tropics of Africa, Asia and South America regularly visit so-called salt or mineral licks to consume clay or drink clay-saturated water. Whether this behavior is used to supplement diets with locally limited nutrients or to buffer the effects of toxic secondary plant compounds remains unclear. In the Amazonian rainforest, pregnant and lactating bats are frequently observed and captured at mineral licks. We measured the nitrogen isotope ratio in wing tissue of omnivorous short-tailed fruit bats, Carollia perspicillata, and in an obligate fruit-eating bat, Artibeus obscurus, captured at mineral licks and at control sites in the rainforest. Carollia perspicillata with a plant-dominated diet were more often captured at mineral licks than individuals with an insect-dominated diet, although insects were more mineral depleted than fruits. In contrast, nitrogen isotope ratios of A. obscurus did not differ between individuals captured at mineral lick versus control sites. We conclude that pregnant and lactating fruit-eating bats do not visit mineral licks principally for minerals, but instead to buffer the effects of secondary plant compounds that they ingest in large quantities during periods of high energy demand. These findings have potential implications for the role of mineral licks for mammals in general, including humans.
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