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Selective consumption by predators of different body regions of prey: is rate of energy intake important?

Authors

  • Xiaolin Chen,

    1. Department of Biology, Xiamen University, People's Republic of China
    2. School of Biological Sciences and Institute of Wildlife Research, Heydon-Laurence Building (A08), University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia
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  • Chris R. Dickman,

    Corresponding author
    1. School of Biological Sciences and Institute of Wildlife Research, Heydon-Laurence Building (A08), University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia
      * All correspondence to: C. R. Dickman, School of Biological Sciences and Institute of Wildlife Research, Heydon-Laurence Building (A08), University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia. E-mail: cdickman@bio.usyd.edu.au
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  • Michael B. Thompson

    1. School of Biological Sciences and Institute of Wildlife Research, Heydon-Laurence Building (A08), University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia
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* All correspondence to: C. R. Dickman, School of Biological Sciences and Institute of Wildlife Research, Heydon-Laurence Building (A08), University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia. E-mail: cdickman@bio.usyd.edu.au

Abstract

If the energy-density of prey bodies is not uniform, predators usually should maximize their rate of energy intake while foraging by selectively consuming energy-rich regions of their prey and discarding other parts. In this study, the hypothesis of selective body-part consumption was tested using two species of dasyurid marsupials, Sminthopsis youngsoni and Ningaui ridei, and their invertebrate prey in arid central Australia. Energy-densities were similar for several divergent types of prey, including whole insects, centipedes, and spiders (20.2 ± 2.19 (sd) J/mg ash-free dry mass), but there were marked differences in energy-density among orders of insects and also between different body regions of invertebrates. In captivity, the two dasyurid species consumed different body regions of prey in the same way. For beetles and cockroaches, the rank order for selection of body parts was abdomen, thorax, head, then legs; for centipedes it was body, then head + legs; and for spiders it was opisthosoma, prosoma and then legs. Selection of prey body regions by the marsupials correlated closely with the energy-densities of these regions, and also with the rates of energy intake that they yielded. In the field, selection of body parts of arthropod prey by dasyurids probably occurs primarily when prey is abundant. This selection should allow maximization of rates of energy intake in favourable periods and should, in turn, allow dasyurid predators to effectively exploit pulses of prey resources in the temporally variable desert environment.

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