How sharp is the knife? Herbivore and carnivore sensitivity to resource stoichiometric quality

Cédric L. Meunier* (Corresponding author), Maarten Boersma, Steven A.J. Declerck, Cecilia Laspoumaderes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review


While understanding feeding preferences of herbivores and carnivores is of major importance in ecology, we still know very little on the sensitivity of different functional groups to suboptimal stoichiometric resource quality. Here, we apply concepts of ecological stoichiometry to shed light on differences in the nutritional requirements of herbivores and carnivores, and to make predictions on the influence of suboptimal resource stoichiometric quality on the fitness of these different consumers to. Herbivores generally experience more variation in the quality of their resource than carnivores do, and these differences have likely shaped the extent to which coping mechanisms have evolved. Consequently, we expect 1) herbivores to maintain their stoichiometric homeostasis over a broader range of resource stoichiometry than carnivores, 2) the threshold elemental ratio (TER), i.e. the dietary carbon to nutrient ratio which maximizes fitness, of herbivores to be higher than that of carnivores, 3) a narrower and sharper knife-edge response in carnivores than herbivores and 4) asymmetric knife-edge responses indicating a higher sensitivity to the diet quality that consumers are not used to dealing with, namely nutrient limitation in carnivores and nutrient excess in herbivores. Our study poses that documenting the ranges of resource quality where consumer fitness declines in diverse organisms is a very promising avenue to increase our understanding of community composition and food web functioning.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere09898
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 31 May 2023


  • ecological stoichiometry
  • food web
  • knife-edge hypothesis
  • stoichiometric homeostasis
  • threshold elemental ratio
  • trophic mode


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