Will invertebrates require increasingly carbon-rich food in a warming world?

Thomas R. Anderson, Dag O. Hessen, Maarten Boersma, Jotaro Urabe, Daniel J. Mayor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


Elevated temperature causes metabolism and respiration to increase in poikilothermic organisms.We hypothesized that invertebrate consumers will therefore require increasingly carbon-rich diets in a warming environment because the increased energetic demands are primarilymet using compounds rich in carbon, that is, carbohydrates and lipids. Here, we test this hypothesis using a new stoichiometric model that has carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) as currencies. Model predictions did not support the hypothesis, indicating instead that the nutritional requirements of invertebrates, at least in terms of food quality expressed as C:N ratio, may change little, if at all, at elevated temperature. Two factors contribute to this conclusion. First, invertebrates facing limitation by nutrient elements such as N have, by default, excess C in their food that can be used to meet the increased demand for energy in a warming environment, without recourse to extra dietary C. Second, increased feeding at elevated temperature compensates for the extra demands of metabolism to the extent that, when metabolism and intake scale equally with temperature (have the same Q10), the relative requirement for dietary C and N remains unaltered. Our analysis demonstrates that future climate-driven increases in the C∶N ratios of autotroph biomass will likely exacerbate the stoichiometric mismatch between nutrient-limited invertebrate grazers and their food, with important consequences for C sequestration and nutrient cycling in ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)725-742
Number of pages18
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Dec


  • Food quality
  • Growth efficiency
  • Ingestion
  • Metabolism
  • Temperature
  • Threshold elemental ratio


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