Aquatic ecosystems have been fertile ground for understanding the extent to which animals can alter nutrient cycling. Although animals have been included in ecosystem models for years (for example, Teal, 1962), it is only more recently that investigators have looked at animals, either as individuals, single species, or assemblages, as agents regulating nutrient cycling (Kitchell et al., 1979; Meyer, Schultz & Helfman, 1983; Grimm, 1988; Jones & Lawton, 1995). A recent review details how animals can affect nutrient cycling in freshwater ecosystems (Vanni, 2002), but the next step is to understand the controls on which animals are important regulators of nutrient dynamics in ecosystems. One controlling factor is determined by attributes of the animals themselves, such as their body size.
Animals can regulate nutrient cycling directly or indirectly (Kitchell et al., 1979; Vanni, 2002). Direct regulation is the transformation and transportation of nutrients by animal ingestion, egestion, production and excretion. For example, animal excretion can constitute the largest source of plant-available nitrogen (N) within an ecosystem (Hall, Tank & Dybdahl, 2003) and animals can move nutrients between habitats (Meyer et al., 1983). Perhaps more common are indirect controls, whereby animals alter nutrient cycling by changing the biomass, production or distribution of the plants or microbes that take up nutrients. For example, predatory fish can regulate phosphorus (P) dynamics or nitrogen retention via a trophic cascade (Elser et al., 1998; Simon et al., 2004).