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 pp. 7861-7871. ISSN 2045-7758 (2020) [Refereed Article]
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.