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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1996 Aug 6;93(16):8465-9.

Regulation of herbivore growth by the balance of light and nutrients.

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  • 1Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 55108, USA.


Experiments using planktonic organisms revealed that the balance of radiant energy and available nutrients regulated herbivore growth rates through their effects on abundance and chemical composition of primary producers. Both algae and herbivores were energy limited at low light/nutrient ratios, but both were nutrient limited at high light/nutrient ratios. Herbivore growth increased with increasing light intensity at low values of the light/nutrient ratio due to increases in algal biomass, but growth decreased with increasing light at a high light/nutrient ratio due to decreases in algal quality. Herbivore production therefore was maximal at intermediate levels of the light/nutrient ratio. The results contribute to an understanding of mass transfer mechanisms in ecosystems and illustrate the importance of integration of energy-based and material-based currencies in ecology.

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