1. Ponto-Caspian peracaridans, and mysids and amphipods in particular, are among the most successful aquatic invaders. However, species differ in the trophic-status range of ecosystems they can invade while establishment rates and impacts can vary substantially between habitats. There is limited knowledge of the environmental factors and species characteristics that drive such variation in invasion success.
2. Here we test how trophic level and body stoichiometry vary among peracaridan species and in relation to body size. The amphipod Pontogammarus robustoides and the mysids Limnomysis benedeni and Paramysis lacustris were investigated in ecosystems differing considerably in productivity and nutrient supply, namely an N-limited eutrophic lagoon and P-limited mesotrophic lakes.
3. As revealed by stable isotope (15N/14N) analysis, herbivory was inferred to be the main feeding mode of L. benedeni. In contrast, the mysid P. lacustris and the amphipod P. robustoides displayed a higher propensity for predatory feeding at larger body sizes, a pattern that was more pronounced in the eutrophic lagoon than in the mesotrophic lakes.
4. Their mean stoichiometric composition (P. robustoides C:N:P 108:20:1, L. benedeni 92:21:1 and P. lacustris 93:22:1) demonstrates that these peracaridans are rich in nutrients, especially nitrogen. They all exhibited the same ontogenetic pattern of reduced stoichiometric regulation during juvenile stages and stricter homoeostasis at older stages.
5. The higher P content in juveniles of all peracaridan species from the lagoon indicates higher potential somatic and population growth rates than those in the mesotrophic lakes. Such a difference may explain the substantially faster rates of invader establishment observed in the lagoon in comparison with lakes of low trophy.
6. Due to differences in ontogenetic and habitat-induced variation, the study species differed significantly in stoichiometric variability, which was lowest in L. benedeni and highest in P. robustoides. The ranges of species-specific variation in stoichiometric ratios corresponded to the trophic (by chlorophyll a) and nutrient stoichiometry (N:P) ranges of lentic waters successfully invaded by these species in Lithuania.
7. Stoichiometric plasticity, which should be associated with flexibility of feeding strategy, may enhance the potential of peracaridan species to successfully invade habitats with differing trophy and nutrient supply. The optimal feeding strategy should be omnivory with a propensity for predatory feeding, which can be adjusted with respect to ontogenetic nutrient demands and resource availability. Invading species may have a stronger effect on the local biota in ecosystems with high P levels, which promote growth, and N limitation that should favour predation.