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Stoichiometry of endothermy: shifting the quest from nitrogen to carbon

Authors

  • Marcel Klaassen,

    1. Centre for Limnology, Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW), PO Box 1299, NL-3600 BG Maarssen, The Netherlands
    2. The Ecology Centre, University of Queensland, School of Integrative Biology, St Lucia, Qld 4072, Australia
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  • Bart A. Nolet

    1. Centre for Limnology, Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW), PO Box 1299, NL-3600 BG Maarssen, The Netherlands
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* E-mail: m.klaassen@nioo.knaw.nl

Abstract

For many animals, notably herbivores, plants are often an inadequate food source given the low content of protein and high content of C-rich material. This conception is mainly based on studies on ectotherms. The validity of this conception for endotherms is unclear given their much higher carbon requirements for maintenance energy metabolism than ectotherms. Applying stoichiometric principles, we hypothesized that endotherms can cope with diets with much higher (metabolizable) carbon to nitrogen ratios than ectotherms. Using empirical data on birds, eutherian mammals, marsupials and reptiles, we compiled and compared measurements and allometric equations for energy metabolism as well as nitrogen requirements. Our analysis supports our hypothesis that plants, and especially their leaves, are generally sufficiently rich in nitrogen to fulfil protein demands in endotherms, at least during maintenance conditions, but less so in ectotherms. This has important implications with respect to community functioning and the evolution of endothermy.

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