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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2021

Metabarcoding prey DNA from fecal samples of adult dragonflies shows no predicted sex differences, and substantial inter-individual variation, in diets

Morrill, Andre; Kaunisto, Kari M.; Mlynarek, Julia J.; Sippola, Ella; Vesterinen, Eero J.; Forbes, Mark R.


Sexes often differ in foraging and diet, which is associated with sex differences in size, trophic morphology, use of habitats, and/or life history tactics. Herein, strikingly similar diets were found for adult sexes of a dragonfly (Leucorrhinia intacta), based on comparing 141 dietary taxa identified from the metabarcoding of mitochondrial DNA archived in feces. Arthropods in > 5% of samples included five species of dipterans, two hemipterans, two spider species and one parasitic mite. The mite was not traditional prey as its presence was likely due to DNA contamination of samples arising through parasitism or possibly via accidental consumption during grooming, and therefore the mite was excluded from diet characterizations. Common prey species were found with statistically indistinguishable frequencies in male and female diets, with one exception of an aphid more often found in male diets, although this pattern was not robust to corrections for multiple statistical tests. While rare prey species were often found in diets of only one sex, instances of this were more frequent in the more oft-sampled females, suggesting sampling artefact. Sexes did not differ in the mean prey species richness in their diets. Overall, sexes showed statistically indistinguishable diets both on a prey species-by-species basis and in terms of multivariate characterizations of diet composition, derived from presence-absence data of prey species analyzed via PERMANOVA and accumulation curves. Males and females may have similar diets by being both opportunistic and generalist predators of arthropods, using the same foraging habitats and having similar sizes and flight agilities. Notably, similarities in diet between sexes occur alongside large interindividual differences in diet, within sexes. Researchers intending on explaining adaptive sex differences in diet should consider characteristics of species whose sexes show similar diets.


Diet analysis; fDNA; Metabarcoding; Odonata; Prey species; Niche differentiation

Published in

2021, volume: 9, article number: e12634
Publisher: PEERJ INC

Authors' information

Morrill, Andre
Carleton University
Kaunisto, Kari M.
University of Turku
Sippola, Ella
University of Turku
Vesterinen, Eero
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Ecology
Vesterinen, Eero
University of Turku
Forbes, Mark R.
Carleton University

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