Food Quality Affects Secondary Consumers Even at Low Quantities: An Experimental Test with Larval European Lobster


The issues of food quality and food quantity are crucial for trophic interactions. Although most research has focussed on the primary producer – herbivore link, recent studies have shown that quality effects at the bottom of the food web propagate to higher trophic levels. Negative effects of poor food quality have almost exclusively been demonstrated at higher food quantities. Whether these negative effects have the same impact at low food availability in situations where the majority if not all of the resources are channelled into routine metabolism, is under debate. In this study a tri-trophic food chain was designed, consisting of the algae Rhodomonas salina, the copepod Acartia tonsa and freshly hatched larvae of the European lobster Homarus gammarus. The lobster larvae were presented with food of two different qualities (C:P ratios) and four different quantities to investigate the combined effects of food quality and quantity. Our results show that the quality of food has an impact on the condition of lobster larvae even at very low food quantities. Food with a lower C:P content resulted in higher condition of the lobster larvae regardless of the quantity of food. These interacting effects of food quality and food quantity can have far reaching consequences for ecosystem productivity.
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