3 years ago

Diet tracing in ecology: Method comparison and selection

Jens M. Nielsen, Pavel Kratina, Michael T. Brett, Elizabeth L. Clare, Brian Hayden
Determining diet is a key prerequisite for understanding species interactions, food web structure and ecological dynamics. In recent years, there has been considerable development in both the methodology and application of novel and more traditional dietary tracing methods, yet there is no comprehensive synthesis that systematically and quantitatively compares the different approaches. Here we conceptualise diet tracing in ecology, provide recommendations for method selection, and illustrate the advantages of method integration. We summarise empirical evidence on how different methods quantify diet mixtures, by contrasting estimates of dietary proportions from multiple methods applied to the same consumer-resource datasets, or from experimental studies with known diet compositions. Our data synthesis revealed an urgent need for more experiential comparisons among the dietary methods. The comparison of diet quantifications from field observations showed that different techniques aligned well in cases with less than six diet items, but diverged considerably when applied to more complex diet mixtures. Efforts are ongoing to further advance dietary estimation, including how reliably compound specific stable isotope analyses and fatty acid profiles can quantify more prey items than bulk stable isotope analyses. Similarly, DNA analyses, which can depict trophic interactions at a higher resolution than any other method, are generating new ways to better quantify diets and differentiate among life-stages of prey. Such efforts, combined with more empirical testing of each dietary method and establishment of open data repositories for dietary data, promise to greatly advance community and ecosystem ecology.

Publisher URL: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/resolve/doi

DOI: 10.1111/2041-210X.12869

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