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Stoichiometry: Linking elements to biochemicals


Boersma,  Maarten
Department Ecophysiology, Max Planck Institute for Limnology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, Max Planck Society;

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Anderson, T. R., Boersma, M., & Raubenheimer, D. (2004). Stoichiometry: Linking elements to biochemicals. Ecology, 85(5), 1193-1202.

Ecological stoichiometry is a useful tool for studying how the elemental composition of organisms and their food affects production, nutrient cycling, and food-web dynamics. Two analyses are presented here that show that the use of simple element ratios in stoichiometric calculations may in certain circumstances prove inadequate because of the influence in animal nutrition of biochemical aspects of diet. In the first, a stoichiometric analysis of herbivores consuming food with varying carbon to nitrogen (C:N) ratios is undertaken, in which the intake of C is segregated into easily assimilated compounds and fiber. Two herbivore strategies emerge from the analysis, both as a means of minimizing limitation by C, not N: fiber eaters that consume high C:N food and have efficient fiber digestion, and selective feeders that consume low C:N food but that do not possess fiber-digesting enzymes. In the second example, the stoichiometric axiom that a single substrate, the one in least supply relative to demand, limits growth is used to identify potentially limiting essential amino acids in the diets of a range of animals. Large consumer-prey imbalances in amino acids were found in several cases, indicating that, at least in theory, growth should be strongly limited by individual amino acids rather than bulk N. In practice such limitation may be offset in consumers by physiological and other factors such as symbiotic relationships. The two analyses emphasize the simplicity of element stoichiometry, highlighting the need to consider biochemical and physiological arguments when undertaking stoichiometric studies of carbon and nutrient transfers in ecosystems.