Feeding by omnivores increases food available to consumers

Iwai, Noriko, Kagaya, Takashi, and Alford, Ross A. (2012) Feeding by omnivores increases food available to consumers. Oikos, 121 (2). pp. 313-320.

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Consumers are usually thought of as negatively affecting producers, but they can affect them positively by releasing nutrients (nutrient regeneration). The net effects of consumers on producers should depend on the balance between the effects of consumption and nutrient regeneration. In aquatic habitats, nutrient regeneration by consumers may increase microbial activity on leaf detritus as well as algal production, which in turn may stimulate further nutrient release and benefit herbivores or detritivores by increasing food quantity or quality. Omnivores can regenerate nutrients from animals, algae and detritus, creating diverse nutrient pathways. Many tadpoles are omnivores, and their nutrient regeneration may be important in aquatic food webs. To reveal the nutrient pathways created by tadpoles and examine whether omnivorous tadpoles can have positive effects on producers and consumers, we experimentally examined the effects of nutrient regeneration by three densities of tadpoles on primary producers, leaf litter, and other consumers in tank mesocosms. Tadpole exclosures were placed inside each mesocosm, allowing us to separate direct consumption effects from indirect nutrient regeneration effects. Nutrient regeneration caused by the herbivorous and carnivorous feeding activities of tadpoles positively affected rates of production of benthic algae, phytoplankton, and herbivorous benthic chironomid larvae, and rates of mineralization of leaf litter. The increased production of benthic algae and chironomid larvae was consumed by the tadpoles themselves, leaving no net change in the standing biomass of these resources. Our experiment thus demonstrated that omnivores created complicated nutrient pathways and accelerated rates of primary production and growth rates of other consumers, leading to increased rates of food availability to the omnivores themselves. Interactions of this nature may be common in many systems and could strongly moderate the effects of consumers on their resources and each other.

Item ID: 20136
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1600-0706
Date Deposited: 01 Mar 2012 03:59
FoR Codes: 06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0603 Evolutionary Biology > 060303 Biological Adaptation @ 60%
06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060201 Behavioural Ecology @ 40%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9604 Control of Pests, Diseases and Exotic Species > 960414 Control of Plant Pests, Diseases and Exotic Species in Forest and Woodlands Environments @ 20%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960806 Forest and Woodlands Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity @ 80%
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