The evolution of ecosystem processes: Growth rate and elemental stoichiometry of a key herbivore in temperate and arctic habitats

James Elser, O'Brien, Dobberfuhl, Dowling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

124 Scopus citations


Understanding the reciprocal interactions between the evolved characteristics of species and the environment in which each species is embedded is a major priority for evolutionary ecology. Here we use the perspective of ecological stoichiometry to test the hypothesis that natural selection on body growth rate affects consumer body stoichiometry. As body elemental composition (nitrogen, phosphorus) of consumers influences nutrient cycling and trophic dynamics in food webs, such differences should also affect biogeochemical processes and trophic dynamics. Consistent with the growth rate hypothesis, body growth rate and phosphorus content of individuals of the Daphnia pulex species complex were lower in Wisconsin compared to Alaska, where the brevity of the growing season places a premium on growth rate. Consistent with stoichiometric theory, we also show that, relative to animals sampled in Wisconsin, animals sampled in Alaska were poor recyclers of P and suffered greater declines in growth when fed low-quality, P-deficient food. These results highlight the importance of evolutionary context in establishing the reciprocal relationships between single species and ecosystem processes such as trophic dynamics and consumer-driven nutrient recycling.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)845-853
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2000



  • % N
  • % P
  • C : N : P
  • Evolution of growth rate
  • Nutrient recycling
  • Stoichiometry
  • Trophic efficiency

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Palaeontology
  • Genetics

Cite this