Exploring patterns and mechanisms of interspecific and intraspecific variation in body elemental composition of desert consumers

Center for Advanced Studies in Ecology and Biodiversity and Depto de Ecología, Pontificia Univ. Católica de Chile, Santiago. Chile
Oikos (Impact Factor: 3.56). 02/2011; 120(8):1247 - 1255. DOI: 10.1111/j.1600-0706.2010.19151.x

ABSTRACT Key processes such as trophic interactions and nutrient cycling are often influenced by the element content of organisms. Previous analyses have led to some preliminary understanding of the relative importance of evolutionary and ecological factors determining animal stoichiometry. However, to date, the patterns and underlying mechanisms of consumer stoichiometry at interspecific and intraspecific levels within natural ecosystems remain poorly investigated. Here, we examine the association between phylogeny, trophic level, body size, and ontogeny and the elemental composition of 22 arthropod as well as two lizard species from the coastal zone of the Atacama Desert in Chile. We found that, in general, whole-body P content was more variable than body N content both among and within species. Body P content showed a significant phylogenetic signal; however, phylogeny explained only 4% of the variation in body P content across arthropod species. We also found a significant association between trophic level and the element content of arthropods, with carnivores having 15% greater N and 70% greater P contents than herbivores. Elemental scaling relationships across species were only significant for body P content, and even the P content scaling relationship was not significant after controlling for phylogeny. P content did decrease significantly with body size within most arthropod species, which may reflect the size dependence of RNA content in invertebrates. In contrast, larger lizards had higher P contents and lower N:P ratios than smaller lizards, which may be explained by size-associated differences in bone and scale investments. Our results suggests that structural differences in material allocation, trophic level and phylogeny can all contribute to variation in the stoichiometry of desert consumers, and they indicate that the elemental composition of animals can be useful information for identifying broad-scale linkages between nutrient cycling and trophic interactions in terrestrial food webs.

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May 31, 2014