, Volume 142, Issue 3, pp 344–352 | Cite as

Detecting predation and scavenging by DNA gut-content analysis: a case study using a soil insect predator-prey system

  • Anita Juen
  • Michael TraugottEmail author


White grubs (larvae of Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae) are abundant in below-ground systems and can cause considerable damage to a wide variety of crops by feeding on roots. White grub populations may be controlled by natural enemies, but the predator guild of the European species is barely known. Trophic interactions within soil food webs are difficult to study with conventional methods. Therefore, a polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based approach was developed to investigate, for the first time, a soil insect predator-prey system. Can, however, highly sensitive detection methods identify carrion prey in predators, as has been shown for fresh prey? Fresh Melolontha melolontha (L.) larvae and 1- to 9-day-old carcasses were presented to Poecilus versicolor Sturm larvae. Mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase subunit I fragments of the prey, 175, 327 and 387 bp long, were detectable in 50% of the predators 32 h after feeding. Detectability decreased to 18% when a 585 bp sequence was amplified. Meal size and digestion capacity of individual predators had no influence on prey detection. Although prey consumption was negatively correlated with cadaver age, carrion prey could be detected by PCR as efficiently as fresh prey irrespective of carrion age. This is the first proof that PCR-based techniques are highly efficient and sensitive, both in fresh and carrion prey detection. Thus, if active predation has to be distinguished from scavenging, then additional approaches are needed to interpret the picture of prey choice derived by highly sensitive detection methods.


Carabidae Carrion Pest control Scarabaeidae Trophic interaction 



This study was supported by a grant of the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), project number P14499. The authors are grateful to Sonja Weissteiner for her help in the feeding experiments and to Rüdiger Kaufmann for statistical advice. Christian Pázmándi and Corinna Wallinger provided valuable suggestions regarding the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre is for Mountain AgricultureUniversity of InnsbruckInnsbruckAustria

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