Predators Buffer the Effects of Variation in Prey Nutrient Content for Nutrient Deposition

3 September 2018

Barnes, Cody; Hawlena, Dror; Wilder, Shawn

Predator feeding behavior and digestion regulate the flow of nutrients through ecosystems by determining the fate of prey nutrients. Most predators feed on a diversity of prey items, which differ widely in traits including their nutrient content. Yet, relatively little is known of the mechanisms through which variation in prey nutrient content affects the form by which nutrients are deposited into the environment. The overall goal of this study was to test how variation in the nutrient content of prey affected the fate of nutrients following predation by an arthropod carnivore, the Carolina wolf spider (Hogna carolinensis).We manipulated the macronutrient content of prey by varying the diet on which crickets were fed to produce prey treatments that differed in lipid and protein content. Nutrients were measured as both macronutrients and elements in prey and elements in excreta. We found that there was no effect of diet treatment on the amount of elements or macronutrients in prey carcasses and excreta despite significant variation in the nutrient content of those prey. This is in contrast to studies of some aquatic systems where mass balance by consumers results in variation in excreta content depending on the nutrient content of food. Wolf spiders assimilated the majority of prey nutrients and deposited relatively small and similar amounts of nutrients following feeding. Hence, while prey can vary widely in nutrient content, our findings suggest that this variation has little effect on the amounts of nutrients deposited by predators.