Saprophagy, Developing on Decay

  • Graham E. Rotheray
Part of the Zoological Monographs book series (ZM, volume 4)


Saprophages obtain nourishment from dead organisms and associated material and are considered in this chapter. The diet of a saprophagous larva consists typically of microbes responsible or associated with decay processes, such as bacteria and yeasts, moulds and sometimes algae and protozoa. Larvae imbibe liquid suspensions of these organisms and may or may not filter them and expel the excess liquid back into the environment. Relationships between saprophagous larvae and microbes vary from straightforward exploitation to under-crowding or Allee effects and mutualisms. Their influence on the dynamics of decay processes is equally varied from having little effect to spreading, maintaining and accelerating it. Saprophagy appears to be the groundplan cyclorrhaphan larval feeding mode and a shift from predatory ancestors. Numerous small to large saprophagous cyclorrhaphan lineages exist, and switches to and from saprophagy appear to be frequent. Obligate saprophages are a diverse source of specialisations, and facultative saprophages provide insight into switching routes between feeding modes. Diverse communities of saprophagous larvae can be found at more or less continuous microhabitats and at an almost limitless range of discrete ones where competition for resources may be intense. Niche partitioning and ecological succession are also characteristic and due to such processes saprophagous larvae make significant contributions to cyclorrhaphan diversification and to terrestrial habitat biodiversity and maintenance.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Graham E. Rotheray
    • 1
  1. 1.National Museums of ScotlandEdinburghUK

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