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Oecologia. 2014 Feb;174(2):581-94. doi: 10.1007/s00442-013-2786-5. Epub 2013 Sep 26.

The reaction of European lobster larvae (Homarus gammarus) to different quality food: effects of ontogenetic shifts and pre-feeding history.

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Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung, Biologische Anstalt Helgoland, Postbox 180, 27483, Helgoland, Germany,


Young larval stages of many organisms represent bottlenecks in the life-history of many species. The high mortality commonly observed in, for example, decapod larvae has often been linked to poor nutrition, with most studies focussing on food quantity. Here, we focus instead on the effects of quality and have investigated its effects on the nutritional condition of lobster larvae. We established a tri-trophic food chain consisting of the cryptophyte Rhodomonas salina, the calanoid copepod Acartia tonsa and larvae of the European lobster Homarus gammarus. In a set of experiments, we manipulated the C:N:P stoichiometry of the primary producers, and accordingly those of the primary consumer. In a first experiment, R. salina was grown under N- and P-limitation and the nutrient content of the algae was manipulated by addition of the limiting nutrient to create a food quality gradient. In a second experiment, the effect on lobster larvae of long- and short-term exposure to food of varying quality during ontogenetic development was investigated. The condition of the lobster larvae was negatively affected even by subtle N- and P-nutrient limitations of the algae. Furthermore, younger lobster larvae were more vulnerable to nutrient limitation than older ones, suggesting an ontogenetic shift in the capacity of lobster larvae to cope with low quality food. The results presented here might have substantial consequences for the survival of lobster larvae in the field, as, in the light of future climate change and re-oligotrophication of the North Sea, lobster larvae might face marked changes in temperature and nutrient conditions, thus significantly altering their condition and growth.

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