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Age-related variation in the trophic characteristics of a marsupial carnivore, the Tasmanian devil Sarcophilus harrisii


Bell, O and Jones, ME and Ruiz Aravena, M and Hamede, RK and Bearhop, S and McDonald, RA, Age-related variation in the trophic characteristics of a marsupial carnivore, the Tasmanian devil Sarcophilus harrisii, Ecology and Evolution, 10, (14) pp. 7861-7871. ISSN 2045-7758 (2020) [Refereed Article]

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Copyright Statement

© 2020 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) License, ( which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

DOI: doi:10.1002/ece3.6513


Age‐related changes in diet have implications for competitive interactions and for predator–prey dynamics, affecting individuals and groups at different life stages. To quantify patterns of variation and ontogenetic change in the diets of Tasmanian devils Sarcophilus harrisii, a threatened marsupial carnivore, we analyzed variation in the stable isotope composition of whisker tissue samples taken from 91 individual devils from Wilmot, Tasmania from December 2014 to February 2017. Both δ13C and δ15N decreased with increasing age in weaned Tasmanian devils, indicating that as they age devils rely less on small mammals and birds, and more on large herbivores. Devils <12 months old had broader group isotopic niches, as estimated by Bayesian standard ellipses (SEAB mode = 1.042) than devils from 12 to 23 months old (mode = 0.541) and devils ≥24 months old (mode = 0.532). Devils <24 months old had broader individual isotopic niches (SEAB mode range 0.492–1.083) than devils ≥24 months old (mode range 0.092–0.240). A decrease in δ15N from the older whisker sections to the more recently grown sections in devils <24 months old likely reflects the period of weaning in this species, as this pattern was not observed in devils ≥24 months old. Our data reveal changes in the isotopic composition of devil whiskers with increasing age, accompanied by a reduction in isotopic variation both among population age classes and within individuals, reflecting the effect of weaning in early life, and a likely shift from an initially diverse diet of small mammals, birds, and invertebrates towards increasing consumption of larger herbivores in adulthood.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:Tasmanian devil, diet, stable isotope analysis, Sarcophilus harrisii, carnivore, ontogeny, isotropic niche, trophic niche
Research Division:Biological Sciences
Research Group:Ecology
Research Field:Terrestrial ecology
Objective Division:Environmental Management
Objective Group:Terrestrial systems and management
Objective Field:Terrestrial biodiversity
UTAS Author:Jones, ME (Professor Menna Jones)
UTAS Author:Ruiz Aravena, M (Mr Manuel Ruiz Aravena)
UTAS Author:Hamede, RK (Dr Rodrigo Hamede Ross)
ID Code:142312
Year Published:2020
Web of Science® Times Cited:7
Deposited By:Zoology
Deposited On:2021-01-07
Last Modified:2021-09-08
Downloads:19 View Download Statistics

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