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Open Access Research article

Evidence of the exploitation of marine resource by the terrestrial insect Scapteriscus didactylus through stable isotope analyzes of its cuticle

Alexandra Maros1, Alain Louveaux1, Caroline Lelarge2 and Marc Girondot1*

Author Affiliations

1 Laboratoire d'Ecologie, Systématique et Evolution (UMR 8079) Bât. 362 Université Paris-Sud, Orsay 91405 Cedex, France

2 Institut de Biotechnologie des Plantes, Laboratoire Structure et Métabolisme des Plantes (UMR-CNRS 8618) Bât. 630 Université Paris-Sud, Orsay 91405 Cedex, France

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BMC Ecology 2006, 6:6  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-6-6

Published: 8 May 2006

Abstract

Background

About 4 × 105 eggs in more than 5000 marine turtle nests are deposited every year on a 3.6 km long beach in French Guiana (South America). The dry biomass of eggs is estimated to be 5 × 103 kg, yet only 25% of this organic matter will return to the ocean in the form of hatchlings. Such amounts of organic matter are supposed to drive the functioning of the beach ecosystem. Previous studies have shown that egg predators and detritivorous organisms dominate the trophic relationships and the dynamics of the system. The role of a terrestrial insect Scapteriscus didactylus (Latreille), which damages up to 40% of the eggs of the marine turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), was unexpected. However it was impossible from direct observations to prove that the mole cricket consumed a significant amount of these eggs. Therefore, the precise place of the mole cricket in the nitrogen and carbon cycles of the beach ecosystem could not be determined. In order to answer this question, we looked for a marine signature of carbon and nitrogen source metabolized by the mole cricket.

Results

This study estimated the individual variability of δ13C and δ15N in the cuticle of Scapteriscus didactylus. The isotopic signature was compared between individuals collected at two sites: a village where mole crickets fed on human food scraps and the nearby Awala-Yalimapo beach, where food availability depends seasonally on the nesting sea turtles. The mole crickets collected near the habitations garbage showed no significant variations in the stable isotopic signature, within-and between age groups. On the contrary, isotopic values shifted from a signature of a terrestrial herbivorous diet in the mole crickets during early developmental stages, to isotopic values in adults in accordance with the exploitation of marine animal resources.

Conclusion

The heterogeneity of individual signatures during the year is due to a selective exploitation of the food sources, differing in space and time. Some individuals, from the beach sample consumed a sufficient quantity of turtle eggs to induce the increase of isotopic enrichment observed in the cuticle. Scapteriscus didactylus is an opportunist feeder and plays a role in the turn over of the beach organic matter.