The omnivorous crayfish Procambarus clarkii fed selectively on several species of macrophytes, preferring delicate fresh plants that had filamentous or finely-branched architectures. When the macrophytes were dried, powdered, and reconstituted into an alginate gel (thus eliminating among-species differences in physical characteristics), crayfish preferences were altered; previously tough plants that were high in nitrogen and protein were preferred over previously delicate plants that were low in nitrogen and protein. Even though plant structure influences feeding decision of crayfish, the structurally identical macrophyte gels were fed upon differently, demonstrating that nonstructural traits are important feeding determinants. However, plant tissue constituents such as nitrogen, protein, phenolics, lignin, cellulose, or ash were not significantly correlated with feeding preferences. Two high-nitrogen plants that were avoided by crayfish as fresh and as reconstituted tissue (Nuphar luteum macrophyllum and Alternanthera philoxeroides) possessed extracts that reduced crayfish feeding in laboratory assays, demonstrating that macrophyte metabolites can deter some herbivores. As is often observed with large generalist herbivores and omnivores in terrestrial and marine systems, the freshwater crayfish made feeding decisions based upon multiple plant cues (structure, nutrition, chemical defenses).
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Vol. 22 • No. 4