2014_Clay_Urine as an important source of sodium_Oecologia

2014_Clay_Urine as an important source of sodium_Oecologia

We take for granted that our cravings for salty foods can be sated with a shake, if all the salty snacks aren’t enough. But in terrestrial environments it is increasingly clear that urine is a concentrated, and coveted, source of labile nutrients like Na, Cl, and K. In this study, Natalie Clay’s insight was that the attraction to urine, and its effect on the work done by detritivores, should have a geography. She shows that termites in Ecuador are 20-fold more common after two weeks (and wood decomposition twice as high) on plots receiving a urine-dose of Na every other day. Yasuni is +2000km distant from the salty ocean and receives rainfall akin to distilled water. +Na plots on BCI in in Panama, 25km from two salty oceans, doesn’t differ from control plots receiving water. Moreover, these effects aren’t due the other nutrients in urine, sodium-free urine (she had a recipe) was no more effective than water in promoting decomposition. Which leaves one to ponder, what are the adaptations of these consumers that allow them to find and exploit urine patches? And, given that most tropical forest field stations are close to the ocean, and thus drenched in salty rainfall, what are the things we think we know about how rainforests work that may be biased by forests of detritivores and herbivores that aren’t spending time and energy scrounging for salt?

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