One common stoichiometric approach to predicting patterns of nutrient release (excretion + egestion) by animals in aquatic ecosystems is to base predictions on elemental mass-balance constrained by homeostatic maintenance. An easily measured resource composite (i.e., seston, epilithon, or leaf litter) often is used to represent ingested stoichiometry, but whether such a composite is a good indicator of food actually ingested is a relatively unexplored assumption. We examined the application of a stoichiometric model to the diets of 4 generalist stream invertebrates. We fed 3 trichopteran and 1 amphipod taxa rations consisting of cultured algae, stream epilithon, and several species of conditioned leaf litter. The rations ranged widely in C:N from 10 to 69 (molar) and in C: P from 165 to 3500. After a 2-d feeding period, we measured NH4+ and PO43- excretion, and C, N, and P egestion rates. The relationships observed between the stoichiometries of release and ration were unexpected. Total N: P release rates conformed to stoichiometric predictions for only 1 taxon. Excretion and egestion rates and ratios were generally similar across diets and rarely varied with ration stoichiometry. These patterns were the result of smaller-than-expected responses to leaf-litter rations, which were the most imbalanced relative to body stoichiometry. Analysis of the C:N stoichiometry of foregut material for 2 taxa showed selective ingestion of an N-rich fraction of leaf litter, in 1 case reducing an apparent 8.4:1 C:N imbalance between diet and body composition to 1.5:1. Our results show that selective feeding can reduce potential stoichiometric imbalances, altering patterns of nutrient release relative to expectations based on bulk-diet stoichiometry. Assuming that stream invertebrates consume materials stoichiometrically similar to a resource composite can obscure understanding of stoichiometric imbalances and the role of invertebrates in nutrient cycles.
- consumer-driven nutrient recycling
- ecological stoichiometry
- selective feeding