Specialized morphology corresponds to a generalist diet: linking form and function in smashing mantis shrimp crustaceans
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- deVries, M.S., Stock, B.C., Christy, J.H. et al. Oecologia (2016) 182: 429. doi:10.1007/s00442-016-3667-5
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Many animals are considered to be specialists because they have feeding structures that are fine-tuned for consuming specific prey. For example, “smasher” mantis shrimp have highly specialized predatory appendages that generate forceful strikes to break apart hard-shelled prey. Anecdotal observations suggest, however, that the diet of smashers may include soft-bodied prey as well. Our goal was to examine the diet breadth of the smasher mantis shrimp, Neogonodactylus bredini, to determine whether it has a narrow diet of hard-shelled prey. We combined studies of prey abundance, feeding behavior, and stable isotope analyses of diet in both seagrass and coral rubble to determine if N. bredini’s diet was consistent across different habitat types. The abundances of hard-shelled and soft-bodied prey varied between habitats. In feeding experiments, N. bredini consumed both prey types. N. bredini consumed a range of different prey in the field as well and, unexpectedly, the stable isotope analysis demonstrated that soft-bodied prey comprised a large proportion (29–53 %) of the diet in both habitats. Using a Bayesian mixing model framework (MixSIAR), we found that this result held even when we used uninformative, or generalist, priors and informative priors reflecting a specialist diet on hard-shelled prey and prey abundances in the field. Thus, contrary to expectation, the specialized feeding morphology of N. bredini corresponds to a broad diet of both hard-shelled and soft-bodied prey. Using multiple lines of study to describe the natural diets of other presumed specialists may demonstrate that specialized morphology often broadens rather than narrows diet breadth.