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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Madison, Wisconsin » Vegetable Crops Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #339907

Title: Integrating microbes into food-chains: Insect trophic identity reflects rampant microbivory

item Steffan, Shawn

Submitted to: Meeting Abstract
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/27/2017
Publication Date: 4/6/2017
Citation: Steffan, S.A. 2017. Integrating microbes into food-chains: Insect trophic identity reflects rampant microbivory[abstract]. Institute of Arctic Biology, Life Science Hour Seminars.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: Detritivory is the dominant trophic paradigm in most terrestrial, aquatic, and marine ecosystems, yet accurate measurement of consumer trophic position within detrital (= ‘brown’) food-webs has remained relatively impenetrable. Measurement of detritivore trophic position is complicated by the fact that detritus is suffused with microbes. Given that microbes and metazoans are trophic analogues of each other, animals feeding on microbe-colonised detritus ingest multiple trophic groups. This phenomenon should elevate consumer trophic position, and should be exceedingly common in brown food-webs. We tested this expectation using compound-specific isotopic (15N) analysis of amino acids extracted from both wild and laboratory-cultured consumers. Vertebrate (fish) and invertebrate detritivores (beetles and moths) were reared on detritus, with and without microbial colonisation. In the field, specimens of diverse animal taxa were collected to measure the trophic identities of fauna known to be detritivorous. We show that after being colonised by bacteria or fungi, the trophic positions of detrital complexes increased significantly over time. The ‘inflation’ of detrital trophic position was mediated by the extent to which microbes consumed the detritus. In turn, animals consuming microbe-colonised detritus registered distinctly non-integer trophic positions, which were approximately one trophic level higher than their diets. All wild-collected invertebrate detritivores in our study exhibited non-integer trophic positions. Our data indicate that the trophic position of detritus rises as microbes convert non-living resources into microbial biomass. A detrital complex, therefore, will tend to have a dynamic trophic identity. Animals consuming microbe-colonised detritus exhibit trophic inflation as a predictable function of the degree to which the animal has consumed microbial prey. For meso- or macrofauna, detritivory is effectively omnivory. By incorporating microbes into trophic hierarchies, we quantify the microbe effect within food-chains, and provide a basis to better interpret trophic position among detritivores, as well as the carnivores consuming such prey. Collectively, these findings help to unite the macro- and microbiome in food-web studies, refining the questions that may be posed regarding trophic structure and function.