Graduate Theses & Dissertations

Nutrient Metabolism of an Aquatic Invertebrate and its Importance to Ecology
Aquatic consumers frequently face nutritional limitation, caused in part, by imbalances between the nutrients supplied by primary producers and the metabolic demands of the consumers. These nutritional imbalances alter many ecological processes including consumer life-history traits, population dynamics, and food web properties. Given the important ecological role of organismal nutrition, there is a need to have precise and specific indicators of nutritional stress in animals. Despite this need, current methods used to study nutrition are unable to distinguish between different types of nutritional limitation. Here I studied nutritional metabolism in the freshwater zooplankter, Daphnia. A greater understanding of nutritional metabolism would allow for the development of dietary bio-indicators that could improve the study of the nutritional ecology of animal consumers. Specifically, I addressed the question: What affects the biochemical composition of a generalist aquatic consumer? My overall hypothesis was that the quantity and quality of the diet affects the biochemical composition in a nutrient specific manner. To test this hypothesis, I examined various response variables involved in nutrient metabolism such as alkaline phosphatase activity, whole metabolome, and free amino acid composition. For each response variable, I grew Daphnia under various nutritional stressors and determined if responses are nutrient specific or are a general stress response. I found the current method of measuring alkaline phosphatase was not a phosphorus specific indicator, as activity increased in all nutrient stressed treatments. Analyzing the whole metabolome resulted in nutritional stressors being separated in multivariate space, with many identified metabolites being significantly different from nutrient rich Daphnia. Upon further examination the daphnids free amino acids profiles are caused by differences between the supply of amino acids from the algae and the demand within the Daphnia. These differences in supply and demand resulted in the ability to classify the nutritional status of Daphnia with the use of discriminant analysis, a classification multivariate model. In addition to a deeper understanding and advanced knowledge of the physiological changes caused by nutrient limitation, this research has provided strong evidence for the application of nutritional biomarkers/profiles to identified the nutritional status of Daphnia. Author Keywords: Bio-indictor, Ecological stoichiometry, Metabolism, Nutritional limitation, Nutritional status

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