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What do tadpoles really eat? Assessing the trophic status of an understudied and imperiled group of consumers in freshwater habitats


Matt R. Whiles, Department of Zoology and Center for Ecology, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL 62901-6501, U.S.A. E-mail:


1. Understanding the trophic status of consumers in freshwater habitats is central to understanding their ecological roles and significance. Tadpoles are a diverse and abundant component of many freshwater habitats, yet we know relatively little about their feeding ecology and true trophic status compared with many other consumer groups. While many tadpole species are labelled herbivores or detritivores, there is surprisingly little evidence to support these trophic assignments.

2. Here we discuss shortcomings in our knowledge of the feeding ecology and trophic status of tadpoles and provide suggestions and examples of how we can more accurately quantify their trophic status and ecological significance.

3. Given the catastrophic amphibian declines that are ongoing in many regions of the planet, there is a sense of urgency regarding this information. Understanding the varied ecological roles of tadpoles will allow for more effective conservation of remaining populations, benefit captive breeding programmes, and allow for more accurate predictions of the ecological consequences of their losses.