Physiological Ecology of Nutrient Acquisition in Animals
- LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2016
- LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2014
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0070
- LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2016
- LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2014
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0070
Physiological ecologists are interested in how animals have adapted physiologically to their environments and the ecological consequences of such adaptations. A focus area of physiological ecology seeks to understand how animals obtain the needed nutrients to survive, grow, and reproduce. The first step in obtaining needed nutrients is to procure them, and the series of behaviors and adaptations that accompany procurement of foodstuffs is covered in the articles Optimal Foraging and Implications of Foraging Behavior. Once food has been consumed, the nutrients need to be digested and then absorbed across the gastrointestinal lining before they can be used by the animal for cellular processes. To digest and absorb food, animals rely on a series of specialized organs or chambers in their gastrointestinal tract containing enzymes that convert the consumed macromolecules into absorbable units and transporters capable of moving the nutrients across the gut wall. Animals consume a wide variety of foodstuffs, some of which are highly digestible and easily broken down and absorbed, for example carnivores, and some of which are refractory and resist digestion and therefore absorption, for example wood-eating termites. Theory predicts that an animal’s gastrointestinal tract, enzyme production, transporter function, and presence of symbionts will match the chemical nature of their diet. But what happens in animals that undergo long periods of fasting or diet switch during developmental stages or seasonally? If animals need morphological and/or functional plasticity in their gastrointestinal systems, how is such plasticity accomplished? These are just a small sample of some of the questions researchers in the field of physiological ecology of nutrient acquisition are studying. Students or scientists interested in pursuing research in the physiological ecology of nutrient acquisition will need to draw from the larger fields of physiology, biochemistry, nutrition, and ecology.
Karasov and Martinez del Rio 2007 is a physiological ecology text that is focused on nutrient acquisition and is a must-read for those interested in the field. For a vertebrate-only focus, interested readers should try Starck and Wang 2005. Karasov 2011 and Karasov, et al. 2011 are two recent review papers that give overviews of the current status of the field. Barboza, et al. 2010 is an overview of some of the current research topics in the field. A comprehensive overview of the field of physiological ecology of vertebrates can be gained by looking through McNab 2002; this treatise on the subject would be helpful for readers interested in how nutrient acquisition fits into the broader field of physiological ecology. For readers more interested in invertebrates, Chown and Nicolson 2004 is an excellent text on insect physiological ecology that contains an entire section on nutritional physiology and ecology of insects. The related field of nutritional ecology is outlined by Simpson and Raubenheimer 2012.
Barboza, Perry S., Albert Bennett, Jean-Herve Lignot, et al. 2010. Digestive challenges for vertebrate animals: Microbial diversity, cardiorespiratory coupling, and dietary specialization. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology 83.5: 764–774.
Prepared as an overview of the subjects covered in the symposium “Molecules to Migration: Pressures of Life” at the Fourth International Conference in Africa for Comparative Physiology and Biochemistry. Three active research fields are nicely summarized. Good starting point for anyone unfamiliar with any of the covered topics.
Chown, Steven L., and Sue Nicolson. 2004. Insect physiological ecology: Mechanisms and patterns. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.
Contains section on the nutritional physiology and ecology of insects with numerous figures and examples from the literature. Could be used as a text for an upper-division undergraduate or graduate-level class on insect physiological ecology as well as serve as a desk reference for those already in the field.
Karasov, William H. 2011. Digestive physiology: A view from molecules to ecosystem. American Journal of Physiology: Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology 301:R276–R284.
An invited review that chronicles William Karasov’s thirty-year history studying nutrient acquisition in animals. While many of the examples are avian, William Karasov’s approach of scaling from the molecular mechanisms to ecosystem-level effects may be illustrative of what approaches can be used in other animal groups.
Karasov, William H., and Carlos Martinez del Rio. 2007. Physiological ecology: How animals process energy, nutrients, and toxins. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.
An essential text for anyone interested in the physiological ecology of nutrient acquisition. While the book is broadly named as a physiological ecology text, the subtitle reveals the true focus of the text. Examples from both vertebrates and invertebrates abound; literature is well summarized and essential research techniques are discussed.
Karasov, William H., Carlos Martinez del Rio, and Enrique Caviedes-Vidal. 2011. Ecological physiology of diet and digestive systems. Annual Review of Physiology 73:69–93.
A review of new and cutting-edge studies in the field with a significant focus on the role of microbial symbionts in nutrient acquisition. Areas of potential study are also outlined.
McNab, Brian K. 2002. The physiological ecology of vertebrates: A view from energetics. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press.
Informative text for those interested in understanding the role of nutrient acquisition in the broader field of physiological ecology. Best suited as a graduate-level text or desk reference. Contains many examples and figures from the literature. The text, as implied in the title, does focus solely on vertebrates.
Simpson, Stephen J., and David Raubenheimer. 2012. The nature of nutrition: A unifying framework from animal adaptation to human obesity. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.
Contains a detailed discussion of how the geometric framework can be used by ecologists to understand the nutritional needs of wild organisms. Contains examples from both invertebrates and vertebrates. Many figures from the literature are present.
Starck, J. Matthias, and Tobias Wang, eds. 2005. Physiological and ecological adaptations to feeding in vertebrates. Enfield, NH: Science Publishers.
This multi-author text combines the expertise of scientists from the field and contains many useful diagrams and figures. The examples are limited to vertebrates. Most suitable to scientists in the field or graduate students.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
- Accounting for Ecological Capital
- Allocation of Reproductive Resources in Plants
- Animals, Functional Morphology of
- Animals, Reproductive Allocation in
- Animals, Thermoregulation in
- Antarctic Environments and Ecology
- Applied Ecology
- Aquatic Conservation
- Aquatic Nutrient Cycling
- Archaea, Ecology of
- Assembly Models
- Bacterial Diversity in Freshwater
- Benthic Ecology
- Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning
- Biodiversity Patterns in Agricultural Systms
- Biological Chaos and Complex Dynamics
- Biome, Alpine
- Biome, Boreal
- Biome, Desert
- Biome, Grassland
- Biome, Savanna
- Biome, Tundra
- Biomes, African
- Biomes, East Asian
- Biomes, Mountain
- Biomes, North American
- Biomes, South Asian
- Bryophyte Ecology
- Butterfly Ecology
- Carson, Rachel
- Chemical Ecology
- Classification Analysis
- Coastal Dune Habitats
- Communities and Ecosystems, Indirect Effects in
- Communities, Top-Down and Bottom-Up Regulation of
- Community Concept, The
- Community Ecology
- Community Genetics
- Community Phenology
- Competition and Coexistence in Animal Communities
- Competition in Plant Communities
- Complexity Theory
- Conservation Biology
- Conservation Genetics
- Coral Reefs
- Darwin, Charles
- Dead Wood in Forest Ecosystems
- De-Glaciation, Ecology of
- Disease Ecology
- Drought as a Disturbance in Forests
- Early Explorers, The
- Earth’s Climate, The
- Eco-Evolutionary Dynamics
- Ecological Dynamics in Fragmented Landscapes
- Ecological Forecasting
- Ecological Informatics
- Ecological Relevance of Speciation
- Ecology, Microbial (Community)
- Ecology of Emerging Zoonotic Viruses
- Ecosystem Ecology
- Ecosystem Engineers
- Ecosystem Multifunctionality
- Ecosystem Services
- Ecosystem Services, Conservation of
- Elton, Charles
- Endophytes, Fungal
- Energy Flow
- Environments, Extreme
- Ethics, Ecological
- Facilitation and the Organization of Communities
- Fern and Lycophyte Ecology
- Fire Ecology
- Food Webs
- Foraging Behavior, Implications of
- Foraging, Optimal
- Forests, Temperate Coniferous
- Forests, Temperate Deciduous
- Freshwater Invertebrate Ecology
- Genetic Considerations in Plant Ecological Restoration
- Genomics, Ecological
- Geographic Range
- Gleason, Henry
- Grazer Ecology
- Greig-Smith, Peter
- Gymnosperm Ecology
- Habitat Selection
- Harper, John L.
- Heavy Metal Tolerance
- Himalaya, Ecology of the
- Host-Parasitoid Interactions
- Human Ecology
- Human Ecology of the Andes
- Hutchinson, G. Evelyn
- Indigenous Ecologies
- Industrial Ecology
- Insect Ecology, Terrestrial
- Introductory Sources
- Invasive Species
- Island Biogeography Theory
- Island Biology
- Kin Selection
- Landscape Dynamics
- Landscape Ecology
- Laws, Ecological
- Legume-Rhizobium Symbiosis, The
- Leopold, Aldo
- Lichen Ecology
- Life History
- Literature, Ecology and
- MacArthur, Robert H.
- Mangrove Zone Ecology
- Marine Fisheries Management
- Mathematical Ecology
- Mating Systems
- Maximum Sustainable Yield
- Metabolic Scaling Theory
- Metacommunity Dynamics
- Metapopulations and Spatial Population Processes
- Microclimate Ecology
- Mutualisms and Symbioses
- Mycorrhizal Ecology
- Natural History Tradition, The
- Networks, Ecological
- Niche Versus Neutral Models of Community Organization
- Nutrient Foraging in Plants
- Odum, Eugene and Howard
- Old Fields
- Ordination Analysis
- Organic Agriculture, Ecology of
- Parental Care, Evolution of
- Patch Dynamics
- Phenotypic Selection
- Philosophy, Ecological
- Phylogenetics and Comparative Methods
- Physiological Ecology of Nutrient Acquisition in Animals
- Physiological Ecology of Photosynthesis
- Physiological Ecology of Water Balance in Terrestrial Anim...
- Plant Disease Epidemiology
- Plant Ecological Responses to Extreme Climatic Events
- Plant-Insect Interactions
- Polar Regions
- Pollination Ecology
- Population Dynamics, Density-Dependence and Single-Species
- Population Dynamics, Methods in
- Population Ecology, Animal
- Population Ecology, Plant
- Population Fluctuations and Cycles
- Population Genetics
- Population Viability Analysis
- Populations and Communities, Dynamics of Age- and Stage-St...
- Predation and Community Organization
- Predator-Prey Interactions
- Reductionism Versus Holism
- Religion and Ecology
- Remote Sensing
- Restoration Ecology
- Ricketts, Edward Flanders Robb
- Seed Ecology
- Serpentine Soils
- Shelford, Victor
- Simulation Modeling
- Soil Biogeochemistry
- Soil Ecology
- Spatial Pattern Analysis
- Spatial Patterns of Species Biodiversity in Terrestrial En...
- Species Extinctions
- Species Responses to Climate Change
- Species-Area Relationships
- Stability and Ecosystem Resilience, A Below-Ground Perspec...
- Stoichiometry, Ecological
- Stream Ecology
- Systematic Conservation Planning
- Systems Ecology
- Tansley, Sir Arthur
- Terrestrial Nitrogen Cycle
- Terrestrial Resource Limitation
- Thermal Ecology of Animals
- Tragedy of the Commons
- Trophic Levels
- Vegetation Classification
- Vegetation Mapping
- Weed Ecology
- Whittaker, Robert H.
- Wildlife Ecology