Predation risk, stoichiometric plasticity and ecosystem elemental cycling

Shawn J. Leroux, Dror Hawlena, Oswald J. Schmitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


It is widely held that herbivore growth and production is limited by dietary nitrogen (N) that in turn constrains ecosystem elemental cycling. Yet, emerging evidence suggests that this conception of limitation may be incomplete, because chronic predation risk heightens herbivore metabolic rate and shifts demand from N-rich proteins to soluble carbohydrate-carbon (C). Because soluble C can be limiting, predation risk may cause ecosystem elemental cycling rates and stoichiometric balance to depend on herbivore physiological plasticity. We report on a stoichiometrically explicit ecosystem model that investigates this problem. The model tracks N, and soluble and recalcitrant C through ecosystem compartments. We evaluate how soluble plant C influences C and N stocks and flows in the presence and absence of predation risk. Without risk, herbivores are limited by N and respire excess C so that plant-soluble C has small effects only on elemental stocks and flows. With predation risk, herbivores are limited by soluble C and release excess N, so plant-soluble C critically influences ecosystem elemental stocks flows. Our results emphasize that expressing ecosystem stoichiometric balance using customary C:N ratios that do not distinguish between soluble and recalcitrant C may not adequately describe limitations on elemental cycling.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)4183-4191
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1745
StatePublished - Oct 2012


  • Carbon cycling
  • Ecosystem functioning
  • Herbivore physiological stress
  • Nitrogen cycling
  • Predation risk
  • Stoichiometric balance


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