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Trophic generalists vs. trophic specialists: implications for food web dynamics in post-fire streams

Author(s): Timothy B. Mihuc, G. Wayne Minshall
Year Published: 1995

The trophic ecology of 11 benthic macroinvertebrate taxa found in Cache Creek, Yellowstone National Park (YNP) was studied to determine if burned organic matter is an important resource and how resource utilization patterns may be altered in post-fire streams. Laboratory food quality experiments were conducted to determine the growth response of each species when grown on several resource types: burned organic matter, periphyton, unburned coarse particulate material (CPM), and unburned fine particulate material (FPM). The central hypothesis of this research was that benthic macroinvertebrates cannot use burned organic matter as a resource. A secondary hypothesis was that some benthic macroinvertebrates are facultative in trophic function, with the ability to use both allochthonous and autochthonous resources for growth. Of the 11 taxa studied, only one (Paraleptophlebia heteronea) could grow on burned organic matter as a resource, indicating that post-fire food webs probably do not exhibit major shifts in resource utilization to burned material. Two species were generalist detrivores (P. heteronea, Ameletus cooki) able to use both natural FPM and CPM resources. Two species were specialist detritivores (Oligophlebodes sigma, Ephemerella infrequens) growing only on unburned CPM resources, and two (Cinygmula mimus, Epeorus albertae) were specialist herbivores utilizing only periphyton. Five species were generalist herbivore-detritivores (Baetis bicaudatus, Drunella doddsi, D. coloradensis, D. spinifera, Zapada columbiana), exhibiting growth on both detritus and periphyton resources. Based on the experimental results, trophic generalists are common food web components in Yellowstone streams. Two of the most abundant benthic macroinvertebrates during post-fire recovery, B. bicaudatus and Z. columbiana, were trophic generalists, indicating that some generalists may be disturbance adapted. In this study, published functional feeding group classification did not indicate obligate resource utilization (growth on only one resource type) for most taxa studied. Comparison of a food web for Cache Creek based on functional feeding group classification and one based on the results of this study indicates that the inclusion of generalists in the web results in a more realistic approximation of food web relationships such as the link-species scaling law. Our results suggest that future research should include spatial and temporal aspects of resource switching and generalist resource utilization by individual lotic primary consumers.

Citation: Mihuc, Timothy B.; Minshall, G. Wayne. 1995. Trophic generalists vs. trophic specialists: implications for food web dynamics in post-fire streams. Ecology. 76(8): 2361-2372.
Topic(s): Fire Effects, Ecological - Second Order, Aquatic Life, Water, Wildlife, Fire & Wildlife, Invertebrates, Aquatic
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 8260
FRAMES RCS number: 10056
Record updated: Mar 19, 2018