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Studying urban animal diets

The thing I appreciate most about this article about studying the diets of urban coyotes in Los Angeles is how it talks about limitations to other methods that are often used to assess the diets of wild animals (e.g. analysis of poop). Over the last several years I've had two undergrads working on a project to try and figure out what wild crickets eat, and it's also a hard problem because crickets, like coyotes, eat a wide range of different things. Unfortunately for us, we haven't had the same level of success when trying the method described in this article (stomach analysis), because by the time stuff winds up in a cricket's crop it's mostly microscopic mush. In the long run I'm hoping we'll be able to do something similar to what the coyote researchers are aiming to do, where they're both studying the visible contents and also sequencing things. (That also has its limits, though, if a significant portion of the animal's diet is its brethren).

Another challenge for us is that humans don't interact with crickets in the same way they interact with coyotes, so there isn't the same sort of direct human-interest motivation to learn more about the crickets. Instead, I have to do more thinking to come up with ways to motivate the cricket work. For instance, like coyotes, crickets are found both in urban and non-urban habitats, so that's one aspect that's of interest. They're also geographically widespread, and generalist omnivores, which also makes them an interesting focal group because there's potential for very high flexibility in what they eat and in how that impacts their success in different environments.

This entry was originally posted at https://rebeccmeister.dreamwidth.org/1218606.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

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