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Advantages of using fecal samples for stable isotope analysis in bats: evidence from a triple isotopic experiment




Stable isotope analysis in ecological studies is usually conducted on biomaterials, e.g. muscle and blood, that require catching the animals. Feces are rarely used for stable isotope analysis, despite the possibility of non-invasive sampling and short-term responsiveness to dietary changes. This promising method is neglected due to a lack of calibration experiments and unknown diet-feces isotopic difference (Δdiet-feces).


To fill this gap, we simulated trophic changes occurring in nature when animals switch feeding habitats, e.g. by moving from freshwater to terrestrial systems, from cultivated areas to forests or changing distance from marine environments. In a controlled experiment, the diet of two bat species (Myotis myotis, Rhinolophus ferrumequinum) was altered to an isotopically distinct one. We measured stable nitrogen, carbon and the rarely used sulfur isotope in feces, and calculated Δdiet-feces values.


The feces acquired the new dietary signature within 2–3 h from food ingestion; thus, they are suited for detecting recent and rapid dietary changes. The Δdiet-feces (Δ) did not differ between species or diet (overall means ± standard deviation (sd)): Δ15N: 1.47 ± 1.51‰, Δ13C: –0.11 ± 0.80‰, Δ34S: 0.74 ± 1.10‰. Only Δ15N for M. myotis was significantly different from zero and only Δ13C differed among the days of the experiment.


Fecal stable isotopes can be now further applied in mammalian ecology. This includes a range of applications, such as studying changes in trophic level, resource or habitat use, on a short time-scale. Such information is gaining importance for monitoring rapidly changing ecosystems under anthropogenic influence. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.