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Wednesday 29 February 2012
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Variability of vole food preferences - new insights using DNA metabarcoding


The general framework of generalist herbivore food selection theory has been developed using mostly ungulates and insects as study models. Herbivores with different physiology and life history tactics, such as small rodents, are likely to interact differently with vegetation. While several studies have tested the effect of plant nutrients and/or toxins on small rodent food selection, we know little about their selectivity in the nature where the value of a food item is relative to what else is present in vegetation.

We studied the diets and food selection of grey-sided voles (Myodes rufocanus) and tundra voles (Microtus oeconomus), both key herbivores in the European sub- and low-arctic ecosystems. Several hypotheses of interactions between vole population dynamics and plant defense mechanisms have been proposed, but the coarse resolution of current knowledge of diets hampers their evaluation. We used a novel method, DNA metabarcoding, which enables diet studies of herbivores at a detailed taxonomic level, to study which food items voles are selecting for in their natural habitat. In order to achieve representative variation of food availabilities, we used a large-scale study design encompassing two river catchments in north Norwegian shrub tundra. We then tested whether the biomass of preferred food plants had an impact on vole diets and selectivity.

While grey-sided voles preferred ericoid shrubs, herbs and grasses, tundra voles preferred herbs, grasses and willows. However, both species preferred only certain herbs, especially Rumex acetosa, indicating, specifically, that this plant species has a key role for both vole species and generally, that different herbs are of very different value. Selectivity for preferred food items was connected to food availability in different ways depending on the food item. Some of the preferred food items were always selected strongly and their proportion in diets was related to their biomass in vegetation. Some preferred food items were more selected for when they were scarce whereas some were more selected for when they were common. Together, these results indicate a complex interaction between food selection and food availability. In addition, they imply that when small rodent-vegetation interactions are studied, knowledge of the food preferences of the focal populations is crucial.

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Editorial board
  • BRANDNER Melissa
    • University of Nordland
    • Bodø (Norway)
  • BROCHMANN Christian
    • National Centre for Biosystematics
    • Oslo (Norway)
  • CHARITON Anthony
    • CSIRO Land and Water
    • Lucas Heights NA (Australia)
  • DEAGLE Bruce
    • University of Victoria
    • Victoria (Canada)
  • Eric Coissac
    • LECA
    • Grenoble (France)
  • KASAPIDIS Panagiotis
    • Hellenic Center for Marine Research
    • Irakleion, Crete (Greece)
    • Université de Genève
    • Genève 4 (Switzerland)
  • TABERLET Pierre
    • LECA,
    • Grenoble (France)
    • Centre for GeoGenetics
    • Copenhagen (Denmark)
  • ZINGER Lucie
    • IBENS
    • Paris (France)
  • Vodka, Bison and Metabarcoding

    31 July 2015, by BRANDNER Melissa

    The start of last month saw the occurrence of the Fifth Metabarcoding Spring School held in Białowieża National Park , Poland. A variety of scientists attended from all over the globe to learn, share and inspire with unique stories of metabarcoding.
    The scientists at the Mammal Research Institute PAS in Białowieża National Park hosted this year’s workshop. And our hats go off to them for the organizational skills, warmth and hospitality. During the week, experienced metabarcoders gave lectures on their trials and tribulations in the field of metabarcoding, sparking conversations between the attendees. The end of the first day saw flash talks from all participants of the event, creating an icebreaker and showing the wide variety of applications for metabarcoding, including, dietary studies, environmental health, fundamental ecology and exploration of rare and ancient habitats.
    Pierre Taberlet (who is rumoured to run 8000 PCR a day!) taught technical aspects such as DNA extraction in (...)

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