1. The importance of leaf quality to the nutritional ecology of lotic shredders is well established for temperate species but virtually unknown for tropical taxa. In the present study, we compared the feeding behaviour and performance of two tropical and two temperate shredders in a series of pair-wise experiments.
2. Specifically, we tested whether leaf conditioning status (stream-conditioned versus unconditioned leaves) and geographical origin (temperate Alnus glutinosa versus tropical Hura crepitans leaves) affect the food preference, survivorship, and growth of selected shredders from low and high latitudes in a consistent manner. The animals used in experiments were the caddis-flies Nectopsyche argentata and Phylloicus priapulus from Venezuela, Sericostoma vittatum from Central Portugal, and the amphipod Gammarus pulex from Northern Germany.
3. In general, all shredders exhibited the same high preference for conditioned over unconditioned leaves, irrespective of the geographical origin of the leaf or shredder species.
4. A corresponding tendency for higher growth was found for sets of animals offered conditioned leaves, with the differences in growth being clearer in the two tropical shredders. Survivorship of the two temperate species was consistently high (> 83%) regardless of the diet offered, whereas the tropical shredders survived better on conditioned (77–90%) as compared with unconditioned (54–87%) leaves, although not significantly so.
5. With the exception of the temperate S. vittatum, shredders did not select or perform better on leaves to which they had previously been exposed, indicating a potential adaptation to native leaf species is over-ridden by intrinsic leaf properties.
6. Taken together, the results of this study suggest that tropical shredders may exhibit the same basic patterns of food exploitation as their temperate counterparts. Consequently, current concepts relating to the role of shredders in stream detritus dynamics may well be applicable to tropical streams, although essentially derived from temperate systems.