Life stage and taxonomy the most important factors determining vertebrate stoichiometry: A meta-analysis




May, Emily M.
El-Sabaawi, Rana W.

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Ecology and Evolution


Whole-body elemental composition is a key trait for determining how organisms influence their ecosystems. Using mass-balance, ecological stoichiometry predicts that animals with higher concentrations of element X will selectively retain more X and will recycle less X in their waste than animals with lower X concentrations. These animals will also store high quantities of X during their lives and after their deaths (prior to full decomposition). Vertebrates may uniquely impact nutrient cycling because they store high quantities of phosphorus (P) in their bones. However, vertebrates have diverse body forms and invest variably in bone. Current analyses of vertebrate elemental content predominately evaluate fishes, typically neglecting other vertebrates and leaving much of the diversity unexplored. We performed a systematic review and identified 179 measurements of whole-body percent phosphorus (%P), percent nitrogen (%N), and N to P ratio (N:P) from 129 unique species of non-fish vertebrates (amphibians: 39 species; reptiles: 19 species; birds: 27 species; mammals: 46 species). We found that %P (mean: 1.94%; SD [standard deviation] = 0.77) and N:P (mean: 12.52) varied with taxonomy and life stage, while %N (mean: 10.51%; SD = 3.25) varied primarily with taxonomy. Habitat, diet, and size had small and inconsistent effects in different groups. Our study highlights two research gaps. Life stage, which is frequently neglected in stoichiometric studies, is an important factor determining vertebrate %P. Furthermore, amphibians dominate our dataset, while other vertebrate taxa are poorly represented in the current literature. Further research into these neglected vertebrate taxa is essential.



ecological stoichiometry, elemental content, meta-analysis, nitrogen, ontogeny and development, phosphorus, vertebrates


May, E. M., & El-Sabaawi, R. W. (2022). Life stage and taxonomy the most important factors determining vertebrate stoichiometry: A meta-analysis. Ecology and Evolution, 12(10), e9354.