Nutritional Limitation Travels up the Food Chain


It is a well accepted fact that nutrient limitation of plants affects the growth and survival of herbivores, generally leading to lower performance of herbivores feeding on nutrient stressed plants. The effect of plants' growing conditions on predatory organisms, feeding one trophic level up, has been much less studied, and there is a general consensus that such effects would be small as herbivores often show relatively strong homeostasis with respect to their nutrient content. Here, we challenge this view, and show from several examples that despite the fact that herbivores buffer much of the variance in nutrient stoichiometry of their food, effects of growing conditions of the primary producers can travel up the food chain. We discuss the implications of these findings, and argue that phosphorus limitation of secondary consumers might be more common in marine than in freshwater systems.
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