, Volume 175, Issue 2, pp 737-746
Date: 26 Mar 2014

Pyrosequencing of prey DNA in faeces of carnivorous land snails to facilitate ecological restoration and relocation programmes

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Identifying and understanding predator diets is of high importance in biological conservation. This is particularly true for the introduction, establishment and maintenance of predator populations in newly created or modified ecological communities, such as translocation sites or restored habitats. Conservation status of predators may not permit captive feeding trials or intrusive gut-content methods, so non-intrusive diet assessment is required, such as faecal analysis. However, prey such as earthworms leave no morphological clues suitable for accurately discriminating between species consumed through visual faecal analysis. This study uses non-intrusive molecular methods on earthworm DNA extracted from the faeces of the carnivorous land snail Powelliphanta patrickensis to identify its earthworm diet and any seasonal trends. Data from 454-pyrosequencing revealed earthworm DNA in all samples (n = 60). Sequences were compared to a DNA library created from published and unpublished studies of New Zealand’s endemic earthworms and online databases. Unidentified earthworm sequences were clustered into molecular operational taxonomic units (MOTUs). Twenty-six MOTUs were identified, 17 of which matched the library, whereas nine did not. Similarity indices indicate that there were seasonal differences (P < 0.05) in the earthworm communities represented in the summer and the winter diets. This study highlights the importance of utilising the vast body of data generated by pyrosequencing to investigate potential temporal diet shifts in protected species. The method described here is widely applicable to a wide range of predatory species of conservation interest and can further inform habitat restoration and relocation programmes to optimize the long-term survival of the target species.

Communicated by Nina Farwig.