Stoichiometry in an ecological context: testing for links between Daphnia P-content, growth rate and habitat preference
We used laboratory experiments with ten Daphnia taxa to test for links between Daphnia P-content, growth rate and habitat preference. The taxa represent a wide range of body sizes and most show distinct preferences for one of three habitats: shallow lakes, deep, stratified lakes or fishless ponds. Previous studies show that taxa from shallow lakes and fishless ponds experience high predation risk and rich food resources, whereas taxa from deep lakes experience low predation risk, strong food limitation and potentially P-deficient resources. Thus, we predicted higher P-content and higher maximal growth rates in taxa from ponds and shallow lakes and lower P-content, lower maximal growth but reduced sensitivity to P-limitation in taxa preferring stratified lakes. In each of 25 experiments, a clonal Daphnia cohort was cultured for 4 days on a P-sufficient (molar C:P ratio 70) or a P-deficient (C:P 1,000) diet of a green alga at a high concentration (1 mg C l–1). The P-content of adult Daphnia fed the P-sufficient diet ranged from 1.52 to 1.22% mass. Small-bodied taxa from shallow lakes had higher P-content than larger-bodied taxa from deep lakes or fishless ponds. However, we found a nonsignificant negative correlation between P-content and growth on the P-sufficient diet, rather than the positive relationship predicted by the growth rate hypothesis. The P-deficient diet resulted in declines in both growth rate and P-content compared with the P-sufficient controls and the extent of the declines differed between taxa. Taxa from ponds showed a marginally greater decline in growth with the P-deficient diet compared with taxa from shallow or deep lakes. However, contrary to stoichiometric theory, no relationship was found between a species P-content and growth depression on the P-deficient diet. Although we found evidence for habitat adaptations, our results show that factors other than Daphnia P-content are important in determining differences between Daphnia species in both maximal growth rate and sensitivity to P-limited growth.