Potential functional redundancy and resource facilitation between tadpoles and insect grazers in tropical headwater streams

Checo Colón-Gaud, M. R. Whiles, R. Brenes, S. S. Kilham, K. R. Lips, C. M. Pringle, S. Connelly, S. D. Peterson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We quantified production and consumption of stream-dwelling tadpoles and insect grazers in a headwater stream in the Panamanian uplands for 2 years to assess their effects on basal resources and energy fluxes. At the onset of our study, this region had healthy, diverse amphibian populations, but a catastrophic disease-driven decline began in September 2004, which greatly reduced amphibian populations. Insect grazer production was 348 mg ash-free dry mass (AFDM) m-2 year-1 during the first year of the study and increased slightly to 402 mg AFDM m-2 year-1 during the second year. Prior to amphibian declines, resource consumption by grazers (tadpoles and insects) was estimated at 2.9 g AFDM m-2 year-1 of algal primary production, which was nearly twice the estimated amount available. Insect grazers alone accounted for c. 81% of total primary consumption. During the initial stages of the declines, consumption remained at c 2.9 g AFDM m-2 year-1, but only 35% of the available resource was being consumed and insect grazers accounted for c. 94% of total consumption. Production and resource consumption of some insect grazers increased during the second year, as tadpoles declined, indicating a potential for functional redundancy in this system. However, other insect grazer taxa declined or did not respond to tadpole losses, suggesting a potential for facilitation between tadpoles and some insects; differential responses among taxa resulted in the lack of a response by insect grazers as a whole. Our results suggest that before massive population declines, tadpoles exerted strong top-down control on algal production and interacted in a variety of ways with other primary consumers. As amphibian populations continue to decline around the globe, changes in the structure and function of freshwater habitats should be expected. Although our study was focused on tropical headwater streams, our results suggest that these losses of consumer diversity could influence other aquatic systems as well and may even reach to adjacent terrestrial environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2077-2088
Number of pages12
JournalFreshwater Biology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Amphibian declines
  • Biodiversity
  • Community structure
  • Ecosystem function
  • Productionm

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science

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