Zooplankton nutrition: Recent progress and a reality check

Robert W. Sterner, Kimberly L. Schulz

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

206 Scopus citations


Evidence suggests that marine and freshwater zooplankton generally experience food levels above subsistence values in terms of carbon. However, the quality of this food may be poor due to an insufficiency of other essential nutrients. In this review, we examine recent progress in three main areas of food quality research: (1) elemental (especially P) limitation, (2) digestion resistance, and (3) biochemical (especially fatty acids) limitation. We evaluate laboratory and field evidence in each of these areas, look at new evidence about the life history implications of the elemental limitation hypothesis, and suggest future avenues for research. From a rather large number of seemingly heterogeneous studies, a single consistent picture of food quality emerges: both P and essential fatty acids are predicted to be important dietary factors, but at different places and times. Nevertheless, despite an abundance of valuable laboratory studies, our knowledge of food quality limitation in the field is still poor.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)261-279
Number of pages19
JournalAquatic Ecology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 1998


  • Fatty acid
  • Food limitation
  • Growth
  • Life history
  • Phosphorus

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