Let's go beyond taxonomy in diet description: testing a trait-based approach to prey–predator relationships


  • Jérôme Spitz,

    Corresponding author
    1. Littoral Environnement & Sociétés, UMR 7266 Université de La Rochelle/CNRS, La Rochelle, France
    2. Marine Mammal Research Unit, Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Vincent Ridoux,

    1. Observatoire PELAGIS – Système d'Observation pour la Conservation des Mammifères et Oiseaux Marins, UMS 3462, CNRS/Université de La Rochelle, La Rochelle, France
    2. Centre d'études biologiques de Chizé – La Rochelle, UMR 7372, Université de La Rochelle/CNRS, Villiers en Bois, France
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Anik Brind'Amour

    1. Ifremer, Département Écologie et Modèles pour l'Halieutique, Rue de l'île d'Yeu, Nantes, France
    Search for more papers by this author


  1. Understanding ‘Why a prey is a prey for a given predator?’ can be facilitated through trait-based approaches that identify linkages between prey and predator morphological and ecological characteristics and highlight key functions involved in prey selection.
  2. Enhanced understanding of the functional relationships between predators and their prey is now essential to go beyond the traditional taxonomic framework of dietary studies and to improve our knowledge of ecosystem functioning for wildlife conservation and management.
  3. We test the relevance of a three-matrix approach in foraging ecology among a marine mammal community in the northeast Atlantic to identify the key functional traits shaping prey selection processes regardless of the taxonomy of both the predators and prey.
  4. Our study reveals that prey found in the diet of marine mammals possess functional traits which are directly and significantly linked to predator characteristics, allowing the establishment of a functional typology of marine mammal–prey relationships. We found prey selection of marine mammals was primarily shaped by physiological and morphological traits of both predators and prey, confirming that energetic costs of foraging strategies and muscular performance are major drivers of prey selection in marine mammals.
  5. We demonstrate that trait-based approaches can provide a new definition of the resource needs of predators. This framework can be used to anticipate bottom-up effects on marine predator population dynamics and to identify predators which are sensitive to the loss of key prey functional traits when prey availability is reduced.