Nutritional indicators and their uses in ecology



The nutrition of animal consumers is an important regulator of ecological processes due to its effects on their physiology, life-history and behaviour. Understanding the ecological effects of poor nutrition depends on correctly diagnosing the nature and strength of nutritional limitation. Despite the need to assess nutritional limitation, current approaches to delineating nutritional constraints can be non-specific and imprecise. Here, we consider the need and potential to develop new complementary approaches to the study of nutritional constraints on animal consumers by studying and using a suite of established and emerging biochemical and molecular responses. These nutritional indicators include gene expression, transcript regulators, protein profiling and activity, and gross biochemical and elemental composition. The potential applications of nutritional indicators to ecological studies are highlighted to demonstrate the value that this approach would have to future studies in community and ecosystem ecology.