Copepod foraging on the basis of food nutritional quality: Can copepods really choose?

Stamatina Isari, Meritxell Antó, Enric Saiz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Copepods have been considered capable of selective feeding based on several factors (i.e., prey size, toxicity, and motility). However, their selective feeding behaviour as a function of food quality remains poorly understood, despite the potential impact of such a process on copepod fitness and trophodynamics. In this study, we aimed to evaluate the ability of copepods to feed selectively according to the nutritional value of the prey. We investigated the feeding performance of the calanoid copepod Acartia grani under nutritionally distinct diets of the dinoflagellate Heterocapsa sp. (nutrient-replete, N-depleted and P-depleted) using unialgal suspensions and mixtures of prey (nutrient-replete vs. nutrient-depleted). Despite the distinct cell elemental composition among algal treatments (e.g., C:N:P molar ratios) and the clear dietary impact on egg production rates (generally higher number of eggs under a nutrient-replete diet), no impact on copepod feeding rates was observed. All unialgal suspensions were cleared at similar rates, and this pattern was independent of food concentration. When the prey were offered as mixtures, we did not detect selective behaviour in either the N-limitation (nutrient-replete vs. N-depleted Heterocapsa cells) or P-limitation (nutrient-replete vs. P-depleted Heterocapsa cells) experiments. The lack of selectivity observed in the current study contrasts with previous observations, in which stronger nutritional differences were tested. Under normal natural circumstances, nutritional differences in natural prey assemblages might not be sufficiently strong to trigger a selective response in copepods based on that factor alone. In addition, our results suggest that nutritional quality might depend not only on the growing conditions but also on the inherent taxonomical properties of the prey.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number0084742
JournalPloS one
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 26 2013
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


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