Stoichiometric homeostasis is the ability of an organism to keep its body chemical composition constant, despite varying inputs. Stoichiometric homeostasis therefore constrains the metabolic needs of consumers which in turn often feed on resources not matching these requirements. In a broader context, homeostasis also relates to the capacity of an organism to maintain other biological parameters (e.g. body temperature) at a constant level over ambient environmental variations. Unfortunately, there are discrepancies in the literature and ecological and physiological definitions of homeostasis are disparate and partly contradictory. Here, we address this matter by reviewing the existing knowledge considering two distinct groups, regulators and conformers and, based on examples of thermo- and osmoregulation, we propose a new approach to stoichiometric homeostasis, unifying ecological and physiological concepts. We suggest a simple and precise graphical way to identify regulators and conformers: for any given biological parameter (e.g. nutrient stoichiometry, temperature), a sigmoidal relation between internal and external conditions can be observed for conformers while an inverse sigmoidal response is characteristic of regulators. This new definition and method, based on well-studied physiological mechanisms, unifies ecological and physiological approaches and is a useful tool for understanding how organisms are affected by and affect their environment.
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