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Am Nat. 2006 May;167(5):628-37. Epub 2006 Mar 23.

Inedible producers in food webs: controls on stoichiometric food quality and composition of grazers.

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  • 1School of Integrative Biology, University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois 61801, USA.


Ecological stoichiometry and food web theories focus on distinct mechanisms that shape communities. These mechanisms, however, likely interact in ways that neither theory alone addresses. To illustrate, we show how a model that tracks flow of energy and nutrients through two producers and two grazers reveals two indirect, interrelated roles for "neutrally inedible" producers. First, inedible producers can exert controls over the nutrient content of edible producers and indirectly influence whether grazers are nutrient or energy limited. Second, through these controls, inedible producers can shape community assembly by excluding grazers that are weak competitors for nutrients contained in edible producers. A mesocosm experiment revealed patterns consistent with both predictions: high abundances of inedible algae were accompanied by low phosphorus contents of edible algae and low abundances of the grazer Daphnia. Both lines of inference suggest that interactions between stoichiometry and plant heterogeneity may shape plankton communities.

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