Physiological mechanisms such as allocation and release of nutrients are keys to understanding an animal's adaptation to a particular habitat. This study investigated how two detrivores with contrasting life‐history traits allocated carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) to growth, reproduction and metabolism. As model organisms we used the collembolans, Proisotoma minuta (Tullberg 1871) and Protaphorura fimata (Gisin 1952).

To estimate allocations of C and N in tissue, we changed the isotopic composition of the animal's yeast diets when they became sexually mature and followed isotope turnover in tissue, growth and reproduction for 28 days. In addition, we measured the composition of C, N and phosphorus (P) to gain complementary information on the stoichiometry underlying life‐history traits and nutrient allocation.

For P. minuta, the smallest and most fecund of the two species, the tissue turnover of C and N were 13% and 11% day−1, respectively. For P. fimata, the equivalent rates were 5% and 4% d−1, respectively. Protaphorura fimata had the lowest metabolic rate relative to total body mass but the highest metabolic rates relative to reproductive investment. Adult P. fimata retained approximately 17% of the nutrient reserves acquired while a juvenile and adult P. minuta about 11%. N and P contents of total tissue were significantly higher in P. minuta than in P. fimata, suggesting that tissue turnover was correlated with high protein‐N and RNA‐P.

Our results suggest that the lower metabolism and nutritional requirements by P. fimata than P. minuta is an adaptation to the generally low availability and quality of food in its natural habitat.

The methodological approach we implemented tracking mass balance, isotope turnover and elemental composition is promising for linking nutrient budgets and life‐history traits in small invertebrates such as Collembola.


Earth Systems Research Center

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Functional Ecology


British Ecological Society

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© 2009 The Authors.


This is an article published by British Ecological Society in Frontiers in Functional Ecology in 2009, available online: