Stoichiometric food quality and herbivore dynamics

Muller, E.B., Nisbet, R.M., Kooijman, S.A.L.M., Elser, J.J. and McCauley, E. 2001. Stoichiometric food quality and herbivore dynamics. Ecological Letters, 4: 519 - 529.


Herbivores may grow with nutrient or energy limitation, depending on food abundance and the chemical composition of their food. We present a model that describes herbivore growth as a continuous function of two limiting factors. This function uses the synthesizing unit concept, has the hyperbolic Monod model as a limiting case, and has the same number of parameters as the Monod model coupled to Liebig's discontinuous minimum rule. We use the model to explore nutrient-limited herbivore growth in a closed system with algae, Daphnia and phosphorus as the limiting nutrient.

Phosphorus in algae may substantially influence Daphnia growth. This influence changes over time and is most pronounced when algae and Daphnia populations fluctuate strongly. Relative to classic models that only consider food quantity as a determinant of Daphnia growth, our model shows richer dynamical behaviour. In addition to the standard positive equilibrium, which may be stable or unstable depending on nutrient availability, a new positive equilibrium may arise in our model when mortality rates are relatively high. This equilibrium is unstable and reduces the likelihood of long-term persistence of Daphnia in the system.

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