Nitrogen in insects: Implications for trophic complexity and species diversification

William F. Fagan, Evan Siemann, Charles Mitter, Robert F. Denno, Andrea F. Huberty, H. Arthur Woods, James Elser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

268 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Disparities in nutrient content (nitrogen and phosphorus) between herbivores and their plant resources have lately proven to have major consequences for herbivore success, consumer-driven nutrient cycling, and the fate of primary production in ecosystems. Here we extend these findings by examining patterns of nutrient content between animals at higher trophic levels, specifically between insect herbivores and predators. Using a recently compiled database on insect nutrient content, we found that predators exhibit on average 15% greater nitrogen content than herbivores. This difference persists after accounting for variation from phylogeny and allometry. Among herbivorous insects, we also found evidence that recently derived lineages (e.g., herbivorous Diptera and Lepidoptera) have, on a relative basis, 15%-25% less body nitrogen than more ancient herbivore lineages (e.g., herbivorous Orthoptera and Hemiptera). We elaborate several testable hypotheses for the origin of differences in nitrogen content between trophic levels and among phylogenetic lineages. For example, interspecific variation in insect nitrogen content may be directly traceable to differences in dietary nitrogen (including dilution by gut contents), selected for directly in response to the differential scarcity of dietary nitrogen, or an indirect consequence of adaptation to different feeding habits. From some functional perspectives, the magnitude rather than the source of the interspecific differences in nitrogen content may be most critical. We conclude by discussing the implications of the observed patterns for both the trophic complexity of food webs and the evolutionary radiation of herbivorous insects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)784-802
Number of pages19
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Volume160
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2002

Fingerprint

herbivores
nitrogen content
insect
insects
nitrogen
herbivore
nutrient content
phytophagous insects
predators
trophic level
phylogeny
allometry
Orthoptera
interspecific variation
biogeochemical cycles
food webs
predator
primary productivity
Hemiptera
digestive system

Keywords

  • Allometry
  • Dietary nitrogen
  • Diversification of herbivorous insects
  • Food web dynamics
  • Insect phylogeny
  • Nutrient content

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology

Cite this

Fagan, W. F., Siemann, E., Mitter, C., Denno, R. F., Huberty, A. F., Woods, H. A., & Elser, J. (2002). Nitrogen in insects: Implications for trophic complexity and species diversification. American Naturalist, 160(6), 784-802. https://doi.org/10.1086/343879

Nitrogen in insects : Implications for trophic complexity and species diversification. / Fagan, William F.; Siemann, Evan; Mitter, Charles; Denno, Robert F.; Huberty, Andrea F.; Woods, H. Arthur; Elser, James.

In: American Naturalist, Vol. 160, No. 6, 01.12.2002, p. 784-802.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Fagan, WF, Siemann, E, Mitter, C, Denno, RF, Huberty, AF, Woods, HA & Elser, J 2002, 'Nitrogen in insects: Implications for trophic complexity and species diversification', American Naturalist, vol. 160, no. 6, pp. 784-802. https://doi.org/10.1086/343879
Fagan WF, Siemann E, Mitter C, Denno RF, Huberty AF, Woods HA et al. Nitrogen in insects: Implications for trophic complexity and species diversification. American Naturalist. 2002 Dec 1;160(6):784-802. https://doi.org/10.1086/343879
Fagan, William F. ; Siemann, Evan ; Mitter, Charles ; Denno, Robert F. ; Huberty, Andrea F. ; Woods, H. Arthur ; Elser, James. / Nitrogen in insects : Implications for trophic complexity and species diversification. In: American Naturalist. 2002 ; Vol. 160, No. 6. pp. 784-802.
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