Isotopic fractionation in a large herbivorous insect, the Auckland tree weta

Determining diet and trophic position of species with stable isotopes requires appropriate trophic enrichment estimates between an animal and its potential foods. These estimates are particularly important for cryptic foragers where there is little comparative dietary information. Nonetheless, many trophic enrichment estimates are based on related taxa, without confirmation of accuracy using laboratory trials. We used stable isotope analysis to investigate diet and to resolve trophic relationships in a large endemic insect, the Auckland tree weta (Hemideina thoracica White). Comparisons of isotopes in plant foods fed to captive wetas with isotope ratios in their frass provided variable results, so frass isotope values had limited usefulness as a proxy indicator of trophic level. Isotopic values varied between different tissues, with trophic depletion of 15N highest in body fat and testes. Tissue fractionation was consistent in captive and wild caught wetas, and isotopic values were not significantly different between the two groups, suggesting that this weta species is primarily herbivorous. Whole-body values in captive wetas demonstrated trophic depletion (Δδ) for δ¹⁵N of about–0.77‰ and trophic enrichment of 4.28‰ for δ¹³C. These values differ from commonly estimated trophic enrichments for both insects and herbivores and indicate the importance of laboratory trials to determine trophic enrichment. Isotopic values for femur muscles from a number of local wild weta populations did not vary consistently with body weight or size, suggesting that juveniles eat the same foods as adults. Considerable variation among individuals within and between populations suggest that isotopic values are strongly influenced by food availability and individual foraging traits.
Journal Article
Type of thesis
Wehi, P.M. & Hicks, B.J. (2010). Isotopic fractionation in a large herbivorous insect, the Auckland tree weta. Journal of Insect Physiology, published online on 20 August 2010.