Resource composition mediates the effects of intraspecific variability in nutrient recycling on ecosystem processes
20 March 2017Evangelista, Charlotte; Lecerf, A.; Britton, Robert; Cucherousset, Julien
Despite the growing evidence for individual variation in trophic niche within populations, its potential indirect effects on ecosystem processes remains poorly understood. In particular, few studies have investigated how intraspecific trophic variability can modulate the effects of consumers on ecosystems through potential changes in nutrient excretion rates. Here, we first quantified the level of intraspecific trophic variability in 11 wild populations of the omnivorous fish Lepomis gibbosus. Outputs from stomach content and stable isotope analyses revealed that the degree of trophic specialization and trophic positions were highly variable between and within these wild populations. There was intrapopulation variation in trophic position of more than one trophic level, suggesting that individuals consumed a range of plant and animal resources. We then experimentally manipulated intraspecific trophic variability to assess how it can modulate consumer-mediated nutrient effects on relevant processes of ecosystem functioning. Specifically, three food sources varying in nutrient quality (e.g. plant material, macro-invertebrate and fish meat) were used individually or in combination to simulate seven diet treatment. Results indicated that intraspecific variability in growth and nitrogen excretion rates were more related to the composition of the diet rather than the degree of specialization, and increased with the trophic position of the diet consumed. We subsequently used microcosms and showed that critical ecosystem functions, such as primary production and community respiration, were affected by the variability in excretory products, and this effect was biomass-dependent. These results highlight the importance of considering variation within species to better assess the effects of individuals on ecosystems and, more specifically, the effects of consumer-mediated nutrient recycling because the body size and the trophic ecology of individuals are affected by a large spectrum of natural and human-induced environmental changes.