1. Much of the current understanding of ecological systems is based on theory that does not explicitly take into account individual variation within natural populations. However, individuals may show substantial variation in resource use. This variation in turn may be translated into topological properties of networks that depict interactions among individuals and the food resources they consume (individual-resource networks).
2. Different models derived from optimal diet theory (ODT) predict highly distinct patterns of trophic interactions at the individual level that should translate into distinct network topologies. As a consequence, individual-resource networks can be useful tools in revealing the incidence of different patterns of resource use by individuals and suggesting their mechanistic basis.
3. In the present study, using data from several dietary studies, we assembled individual-resource networks of 10 vertebrate species, previously reported to show interindividual diet variation, and used a network-based approach to investigate their structure.
4. We found significant nestedness, but no modularity, in all empirical networks, indicating that (i) these populations are composed of both opportunistic and selective individuals and (ii) the diets of the latter are ordered as predictable subsets of the diets of the more opportunistic individuals.
5. Nested patterns are a common feature of species networks, and our results extend its generality to trophic interactions at the individual level. This pattern is consistent with a recently proposed ODT model, in which individuals show similar rank preferences but differ in their acceptance rate for alternative resources. Our findings therefore suggest a common mechanism underlying interindividual variation in resource use in disparate taxa.