Dietary essential amino acids affect the reproduction of the keystone herbivore Daphnia pulex

PLoS One. 2011;6(12):e28498. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0028498. Epub 2011 Dec 5.


Recent studies have indicated that nitrogen availability can be an important determinant of primary production in freshwater lakes and that herbivore growth can be limited by low dietary nitrogen availability. Furthermore, a lack of specific essential nitrogenous biochemicals (such as essential amino acids) might be another important constraint on the fitness of consumers. This might be of particular importance for cladoceran zooplankton, which can switch between two alternative reproductive strategies--the production of subitaneously developing and resting eggs. Here, we hypothesize that both the somatic growth and the type of reproduction of the aquatic keystone herbivore Daphnia is limited by the availability of specific essential amino acids in the diet. In laboratory experiments, we investigated this hypothesis by feeding a high quality phytoplankton organism (Cryptomonas) and a green alga of moderate nutritional quality (Chlamydomonas) to a clone of Daphnia pulex with and without the addition of essential amino acids. The somatic growth of D. pulex differed between the algae of different nutritional quality, but not dependent on the addition of dissolved amino acids. However, in reproduction experiments, where moderate crowding conditions at saturating food quantities were applied, addition of the essential amino acids arginine and histidine (but not lysine and threonine) increased the total number and the developmental stage of subitaneous eggs. While D. pulex did not produce resting eggs on Cryptomonas, relatively high numbers of resting eggs were released on Chlamydomonas. When arginine and histidine were added to the green algal diet, the production of resting eggs was effectively suppressed. This demonstrates the high, but previously overlooked importance of single essential amino acids for the reproductive strategy of the aquatic keystone herbivore Daphnia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids / metabolism
  • Amino Acids, Essential / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Chlamydomonas / genetics
  • Chlamydomonas / metabolism
  • Cryptophyta / genetics
  • Daphnia / metabolism
  • Daphnia / physiology*
  • Diet*
  • Ecosystem
  • Food Chain
  • Fresh Water
  • Models, Biological
  • Nitrogen / metabolism
  • Population Dynamics
  • Reproduction
  • Zooplankton / metabolism


  • Amino Acids
  • Amino Acids, Essential
  • Nitrogen