Identifying the diet of a declining prairie grouse using DNA metabarcoding


Diets during critical brooding and winter periods likely influence the growth of Lesser Prairie-Chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) populations. During the brooding period, rapidly growing Lesser Prairie-Chicken chicks have high calorie demands and are restricted to foods within immediate surroundings. For adults and juveniles during cold winters, meeting thermoregulatory demands with available food items of limited nutrient content may be challenging. Our objective was to determine the primary animal and plant components of Lesser Prairie-Chicken diets among native prairie, cropland, and Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) fields in Kansas and Colorado, USA, during brooding and winter using a DNA metabarcoding approach. Lesser Prairie-Chicken fecal samples (n = 314) were collected during summer 2014 and winter 2014-2015, DNA was extracted, amplified, and sequenced. A region of the cytochrome oxidase I (COI) gene was sequenced to determine the arthropod component of the diet, and a portion of the trnL intron region was used to determine the plant component. Relying on fecal DNA to quantify dietary composition, as opposed to traditional visual identification of gut contents, revealed a greater proportion of soft-bodied arthropods than previously recorded. Among 80 fecal samples for which threshold arthropod DNA reads were obtained, 35% of the sequences were most likely from Lepidoptera, 26% from Orthoptera, 14% from Araneae, 13% from Hemiptera, and 12% from other orders. Plant sequences from 137 fecal samples were composed of species similar to Ambrosia (27%), followed by species similar to Lactuca or Taraxacum (10%), Medicago (6%), and Triticum (5%). Forbs were the predominant (>50% of reads) plant food consumed during both brood rearing and winter. The importance both of native forbs and of a broad array of arthropods that rely on forbs suggests that disturbance regimes that promote forbs may be crucial in providing food for Lesser Prairie-Chickens in the northern portion of their distribution.



arthropods, diet, DNA metabarcoding, foraging, forbs, grasslands, grouse, invertebrates, Lesser Prairie-Chicken, Tympanuchus pallidicinctus