In energy-maximizing animals, preferences for different prey can be explained by ranking them by their energetic content. However, diet choice also depends on characteristics of the predator such as the need to ingest necessary nutrients, and constraints imposed by digestion and toxins in food. In combination, these factors can lead to mixed diets in which the energetically most profitable food is not eaten exclusively even when it is abundant. We studied diet choice in red knots (Calidris canutus canutus) feeding on mollusks at a West-African wintering site. At this site, the birds fed primarily on two species of bivalves, a thick-shelled one (Dosinia isocardia) that imposed a digestive constraint, and a thin-shelled one that imposed a toxin constraint (Loripes lucinalis). The latter species is toxic due to its symbiotic association with sulphide-oxidizing bacteria. We estimated experimentally the parameters of a linear programming model that includes both digestive and toxin constraints, leading to the prediction that red knots should eat a mixture of both mollusk species to maximize energy intake. The model correctly predicted the preferences of the captive birds, which depended on the digestive quality and toxicity of their previous diet. At our study site, energy maximizing red knots appear to select a mixed diet as a result of the simultaneous effects of digestive and toxin constraints.
The data package contains files on two experiments:
- Intake rates of captive red knots (Calidris canutus canutus) were measured, feeding for 6 hours on monospecific diets of either Loripes lucinalis or Dosinia Isocardia.
- Diet choice of captive red knots (Calidris canutus canutus) were determined after being fed a diet of either Loripes lucinalis or Dosinia isocardia, by offering both species simultaneously in seperate piles on a tray. Trials ended after 20 prey choices, or after one hour (1 case, 13 ingestions).
- behavioral ecology
- Calidris canutus canutus
- Red knots
- Loripes lucinalis
- Dosinia isocardia