Use of Stable Isotope Ratios to Characterize Potential Shifts in the Isotopic Niches of Algal-Grazing Insect Following and Amphibian Decline in a Neotropical Stream

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Journal of Tropical Ecology






Neotropical streams are losing dominant consumer groups as a result of disease-driven amphibian declines. The herbivorous tadpoles of Lithobates warszewitschii were once abundant in the Rio Maria in the Eastern Cordillera Central of Panama, where they consumed algae and organic matter. The decline of this once abundant grazer has the potential to affect the resources consumed by insect grazers in this system. Stable isotopes were used to characterize changes in the resource use before and after amphibian declines of four abundant insect grazer taxa:Stenonema spp., Thraulodes spp., Psephenus spp. and Petrophila spp. We collected 11 isotope samples of L. warszewitschii and 27 isotope samples of these insect taxa in 2006, and then 24 more isotope samples of the same insect taxa in 2008, 20 mo. after a disease-driven amphibian extirpation. We also tested for potential functional redundancy of insects with tadpoles by comparing the post-decline isotopic niche of each insect taxon to the isotopic niche of L. warszewitschii. The isotopic niche of Psephenus spp., Petrophila spp. and Stenonema spp. shifted from 2006 to 2008, but none of the insect taxa in 2008 occupied the same isotopic niche as tadpoles. Our study builds on previous evidence that the ecological roles of tadpoles were not replaced through functional redundancy after amphibian declines.