Metabolic theory and taxonomic identity predict nutrient recycling in a diverse food web

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Reconciling the degree to which ecological processes are generalizable among taxa and ecosystems, or contingent on the identity of interacting species, remains a critical challenge in ecology. Ecological stoichiometry (EST) and metabolic theory of ecology (MTE) are theoretical approaches used to evaluate how consumers mediate nutrient dynamics and energy flow through ecosystems. Recent theoretical work has explored the utility of these theories, but empirical tests in species-rich ecological communities remain scarce. Here we use an unprecedented dataset collected from fishes and dominant invertebrates (n = 900) in a diverse subtropical coastal marine community (50 families, 72 genera, 102 species; body mass range: 0.04-2,597 g) to test the utility of EST and MTE in predicting excretion rates of nitrogen (EN), phosphorus (EP), and their ratio (ENP). Body mass explained a large amount of the variation in EN and EP but not ENP. Strong evidence in support of the MTE 3/4 allometric scaling coefficient was found for EP, and for ENonly after accounting for variation in excretion rates among taxa. In all cases, including taxonomy in models substantially improved model performance, highlighting the importance of species identity for this ecosystem function. Body nutrient content and trophic position explained little of the variation in EN, EP, or ENP, indicating limited applicability of basic predictors of EST. These results highlight the overriding importance of MTE for predicting nutrient flow through organisms, but emphasize that these relationships still fall short of explaining the unique effects certain species can have on ecological processes.




Allgeier, J. E., Wenger, S. J., Rosemond, A. D., Schindler, D. E., & Layman, C. A. (2015). Metabolic theory and taxonomic identity predict nutrient recycling in a diverse food web. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 112(20), E2640–E2647.

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