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Data from: Human food subsidies drive individual specialization and intrapopulation dietary differences in a generalist predator


West, Elena; Jones, Harrison (2022), Data from: Human food subsidies drive individual specialization and intrapopulation dietary differences in a generalist predator, Dryad, Dataset,


Generalist species can exhibit individual specialization (IS), where individuals adopt specialized foraging behaviors not attributable to age, sex, or social dominance. While IS increases with the diversity of available foraging resources (ecological opportunity), the potential impact of human food subsidies on ecological opportunity is unknown. We quantified the isotopic niche width of Steller’s Jays (Cyanocitta stelleri), a synanthropic predator and dietary generalist, across a gradient of human land-use categories ranging from subsidized (park campgrounds) to unsubsidized (forest interior) habitats in a protected area in California. We asked (1) if isotopic niche width was better predicted by individual foraging behavior than sex, social dominance, or habitat category (indicating IS) and (2) if degree of IS exhibited by jays increased with the availability of human food subsidies. We characterized the isotopic niche space occupied by individual jays relative to the population using carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) isotope values. Using linear models, we found that jay diet variation was best explained by individual behavior and habitat use rather than by sex or social dominance. While degree of IS increased with the availability of human foods, individual jays exhibited a variety of foraging behaviors in all habitats that were segregated by foraging stratum and use of human foods. Individual diet also determined the degree of specialization, as jays that specialized on human foods had the narrowest niche width regardless of habitat. Management efforts targeted at generalist wildlife exhibiting large degrees of IS should therefore account for the impact of food subsidies on foraging behavior. Approaches that involve aversive conditioning may fail where highly-specialized individuals are unlikely to encounter treatments, therefore we recommend simultaneous efforts to limit human food subsidies (e.g., information campaigns and improved containment of human food and food waste), and deployment across the largest possible extent of foraging microhabitats and substrates in order to ensure exposure of whole populations to emetic eggs.


Save the Redwoods League, Award: MSN150028

Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Award: MSN164905

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Save the Redwoods League, Award: MSN160820