The role of microbes in the nutrition of detritivorous invertebrates: a stoichiometric analysis

Thomas R. Anderson, David Pond, Daniel J. Mayor

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25 Citations (Scopus)
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Detritus represents an important pool in the global carbon cycle, providing a food source for detritivorous invertebrates that are conspicuous components of almost all ecosystems. Our knowledge of how these organisms meet their nutritional demands on a diet that is typically comprised of refractory, carbon-rich compounds nevertheless remains incomplete. “Trophic upgrading” of detritus by the attached microbial community (enhancement of zooplankton diet by the inclusion of heterotrophic protozoans) represents a potential source of nutrition for detritivores as both bacteria and their flagellated protistan predators are capable of biosynthesizing essential micronutrients such as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). There is however a trade-off because although microbes enhance the substrate in terms of its micronutrient content, the quantity of organic carbon is diminished though metabolic losses as energy passes through the microbial food web. Here, we develop a simple stoichiometric model to examine this trade-off in the nutrition of detritivorous copepods inhabiting the mesopelagic zone of the ocean, focusing on their requirements for carbon and an essential PUFA, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Results indicate that feeding on microbes may be a highly favorable strategy for these invertebrates, although the potential for carbon to become limiting when consuming a microbial diet exists because of the inefficiencies of trophic transfer within the microbial food web. Our study highlights the need for improved knowledge at the detritus-microbe-metazoan interface, including interactions between the physiology and ecology of the associated organisms.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2113
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jan 2017


  • Detritus
  • Microbial loop
  • Stoichiometry
  • Trophic upgrading
  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids
  • Mesopelagic zone


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