University of Oulu

Rytkönen, S, Vesterinen, EJ, Westerduin, C, et al. From feces to data: A metabarcoding method for analyzing consumed and available prey in a bird‐insect food web. Ecol Evol. 2019; 9: 631–639.

From feces to data : a metabarcoding method for analyzing consumed and available prey in a bird‐insect food web

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Author: Rytkönen, Seppo1; Vesterinen, Eero J.2,3; Westerduin, Coen1;
Organizations: 1Department of Ecology and Genetics, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
2Biodiversity Unit, University of Turku, Turku, Finland
3Spatial Foodweb Ecology Group, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
4Ecological Genetics Research Unit, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.6 MB)
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Language: English
Published: John Wiley & Sons, 2018
Publish Date: 2019-03-28


Diets play a key role in understanding trophic interactions. Knowing the actual structure of food webs contributes greatly to our understanding of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. The research of prey preferences of different predators requires knowledge not only of the prey consumed, but also of what is available. In this study, we applied DNA metabarcoding to analyze the diet of 4 bird species (willow tits Poecile montanus, Siberian tits Poecile cinctus, great tits Parus major and blue tits Cyanistes caeruleus) by using the feces of nestlings. The availability of their assumed prey (Lepidoptera) was determined from feces of larvae (frass) collected from the main foraging habitat, birch (Betula spp.) canopy. We identified 53 prey species from the nestling feces, of which 11 (21%) were also detected from the frass samples (eight lepidopterans). Approximately 80% of identified prey species in the nestling feces represented lepidopterans, which is in line with the earlier studies on the parids’ diet. A subsequent laboratory experiment showed a threshold for fecal sample size and the barcoding success, suggesting that the smallest frass samples do not contain enough larval DNA to be detected by high‐throughput sequencing. To summarize, we apply metabarcoding for the first time in a combined approach to identify available prey (through frass) and consumed prey (via nestling feces), expanding the scope and precision for future dietary studies on insectivorous birds.

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Series: Ecology and evolution
ISSN: 2045-7758
ISSN-E: 2045-7758
ISSN-L: 2045-7758
Volume: 9
Issue: 1
Pages: 631 - 639
DOI: 10.1002/ece3.47
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 1181 Ecology, evolutionary biology
Funding: We thank Kvantum Institute at the University of Oulu, Academy of Finland (grants #258638 and #283609), Finnish Cultural Foundation (North Ostrobothnia Regional Fund), and Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation for supporting the ongoing project, P. Tokola for providing the Samia larvae and S. Haapala for rearing them in the lab.
Academy of Finland Grant Number: 258638
Detailed Information: 258638 (Academy of Finland Funding decision)
283609 (Academy of Finland Funding decision)
Dataset Reference: OUT sequences and OTU table are available in the Dryad Digital Repository:
Copyright information: © 2018 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 License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.