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Threats from the air: damselfly predation on diverse prey taxa

Cite this dataset

Vesterinen, Eero J. et al. (2020). Threats from the air: damselfly predation on diverse prey taxa [Dataset]. Dryad.


1. To understand the diversity and strength of predation in natural communities, researchers must quantify the total amount of prey species in the diet of predators. Metabarcoding approaches have allowed widespread characterization of predator diets with high taxonomic resolution. To determine the wider impacts of predators, researchers should combine DNA techniques with estimates of population size of predators using mark-release-recapture (MRR) methods, and with accurate metrics of food consumption by individuals.

2. Herein, we estimate the scale of predation exerted by four damselfly species on diverse prey taxa within a well-defined 12-ha study area, resolving the prey species of individual damselflies, to what extent the diets of predatory species overlap, and which fraction of the main prey populations are consumed.

3. We identify the taxonomic composition of diets using DNA metabarcoding and quantify damselfly population sizes by MRR. We also use predator-specific estimates of consumption rates, and independent data on prey emergence rates to estimate the collective predation pressure summed over all prey taxa and specific to their main prey (non-biting midges or chironomids) of the four damselfly species.

4. The four damselfly species collectively consumed a prey mass equivalent to roughly 870 (95% CL 410–1,800) grams, over two months. Each individual consumed 29%-66% (95% CL 9.4–123) of its body weight during its relatively short life span (2.1-4.7 days 95% CL 0.74–7.9) in the focal population. This predation pressure was widely distributed across the local invertebrate prey community, including 4 classes, 19 orders, and ca. 140 genera. Different predator species showed extensive overlap in diets, with an average of 30% of prey shared by at least two predator species.

5. Of the available prey individuals in the widely-consumed family Chironomidae, only a relatively small proportion (0.76%; 95% CL 0.35%–1.61%) were consumed.

6. Our synthesis of population sizes, per-capita consumption rates and taxonomic distribution of diets identifies damselflies as a comparatively minor predator group of aerial insects. As the next step, we should add estimates of predation by larger odonate species, and experimental removal of odonates, thereby establishing the full impact of odonate predation on prey communities.