Understanding specifics in generalist diets of carnivorans by analyzing stable carbon isotope values in Pleistocene mammals of Florida

TitleUnderstanding specifics in generalist diets of carnivorans by analyzing stable carbon isotope values in Pleistocene mammals of Florida
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsFeranec, RS, DeSantis, LRG
Keywordsbiology paleontology

Within ancient ecosystems, it is generally difficult to determine the specific diets of species from higher trophic levels, which in turn hinders our understanding of trophic relationships and energy flow through these systems. To better understand the ecology of taxa at higher trophic levels, we used analysis of tooth enamel stable carbon isotope values to infer the dietary preferences of Canis edwardii and Smilodon gracilis from the Leisey Shell Pit 1A (LSP 1A) and Inglis 1A, two Pleistocene localities in Florida. The goals of the analyses were to (1) determine whether these carnivorans specialized in particular prey types or maintained a generalist diet; (2) ascertain whether carbon isotope values support what was previously suggested about the ecology of these species; and (3) establish what ecological details of ancient food webs can be discovered by carbon isotope analyses at higher trophic levels. Results show that the sampled carnivoran carbon isotope values are distributed among suspected prey isotope values, suggesting that varied prey were taken at the study localities. Prey compositions were modeled for each carnivoran species by using Stable Isotope Analysis in R (SIAR). The modeled diets indicate that each studied carnivoran had a generalist diet; however, there are differences in how these taxa achieved dietary generalization. At the glacial Inglis 1A locality, sampled individuals of C. edwardii and S. gracilis show similar isotope values and modeled dietary prey proportions, although both carnivorans do show a preference for grazing prey species. The similar isotopic values, and calculated prey proportions, observed between these species may imply greater interspecific competition for food. At the interglacial LSP 1A locality, C. edwardii shows values similar to those observed at Inglis 1A. In contrast, the data for S. gracilis shows a preference for consuming browsing prey species. Further, its restricted range of carbon isotope values suggests that S. gracilis may have concentrated its feeding within a particular habitat. Examination of stable carbon isotope values among species at higher trophic levels reveals that some intricacies of ancient food webs can be discerned.