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Gardening by the psychomyiid caddisfly Tinodes waeneri: evidence from stable isotopes

Ings, Nicola L., Hildrew, Alan G., Grey, Jonathan
Oecologia 2010 v.163 no.1 pp. 127-139
Epilithon, carbon, excretion, foods, lakes, larvae, littoral zone, microorganisms, nitrogen, rocks, stable isotopes
Sedentary species face a trade-off between the benefits of exploiting food close to their homes and the cost of defending it. In aquatic systems, it has been suggested that some sedentary grazers can increase the range of circumstances under which they are at an advantage over mobile grazers by enhancing food resources within their feeding territories through ‘gardening'. We examined this for the retreat-building sedentary larvae of the caddis Tinodes waeneri, which are often dominant in the littoral of lakes. We hypothesised that T. waeneri gardens by fertilising its retreat (a fixed ‘gallery' on which algae and other microorganisms grow), and that gardening would be more important in lower productivity lakes. We tested this by analysing the carbon and nitrogen stable isotope ratios of larvae, their galleries and the general background epilithon, collected from rocks in the littoral zones of six lakes spread across a natural nutrient gradient. We found evidence of nutrient recycling within the Tinodes gallery community in all lakes. Galleries were ¹⁵N-depleted compared to the epilithon, suggesting that algae on galleries preferentially assimilated ¹⁴N from larval excretions that were themselves ¹⁵N-depleted relative to the larval food source. Mixing model results indicate that galleries formed an important larval carbon and nitrogen source, with mean gallery dietary contributions of over 40% in at least one sample period in all lakes studied. Gallery contributions were greater between April and October than in January and, contrary to our initial hypothesis, greater in the more productive lakes of those surveyed. Nevertheless, T. waeneri galleries do act as a fertilised garden. ‘Gardening' appears to be widespread in this species, and may affect productivity and patterns of nitrogen retention within the stony littoral of lakes.