Peeing in the Pool: how aquatic insect excretion reflects and affects nutrient recycling in two desert streams
Aquatic macroinvertebrates can be key contributors to nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) cycling in streams. Though they exhibit intense control via trophic interactions and nutrient conversion, they may be influenced by other environmental factors that can determine total excretion-derived N, P, and N:P. Garden Canyon and Ramsey Canyon, two streams in the Huachuca Mountain Range in Southern Arizona, USA, host similar insect communities, but only Garden Canyon experiences a seasonal P limitation due to the co-precipitation of phosphate with calcium carbonate (CaCO3) in its benthic substrate (Corman et al. 2015). I performed an analysis of excretion rates of aquatic insects living in these streams to test if the P limitation is reflected in rates that insects recycle nutrients. A lower mean N:P of all insect excretion rates in Garden provides evidence for an ecosystem-scale effect, though the differences in N:P of excretion rates by individual taxa between streams did not support the hypothesis. Attributing excretion rates to actual insect densities in three years reveals that natural-occurring fluctuations in excretion rates can operate on the same magnitude as fluctuations in abundances and causes steep differences in nutrient conversion between streams. Lastly, I found that since these streams support immense insect diversity, they receive excretion-derived N and P from taxa in many different functional feeding groups, which illustrates ecosystem resilience and uniqueness.