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Focal vs. faecal: Seasonal variation in the diet of wild vervet monkeys from observational and DNA metabarcoding data

Cite this dataset

Brun, Loic et al. (2022). Focal vs. faecal: Seasonal variation in the diet of wild vervet monkeys from observational and DNA metabarcoding data [Dataset]. Dryad.


1. Assessing the diet of wild animals reveals valuable information about their ecology and trophic relationships that may help elucidate dynamic interactions in ecosystems and forecast responses to environmental changes.

2. Advances in molecular biology provide valuable research tools in this field. However, comparative empirical research is still required to highlight strengths and potential biases of different approaches. Therefore, this study compares environmental DNA and observational methods for the same study population and sampling duration.

3. We employed DNA metabarcoding assays targeting plant and arthropod diet items in 823 faecal samples collected over 12 months in a wild population of an omnivorous primate, the vervet monkey (Chlorocebus pygerythrus). DNA metabarcoding data were subsequently compared to direct observations.

4. We observed the same seasonal patterns of plant consumption with both methods, however, DNA metabarcoding showed considerably greater taxonomic coverage and resolution compared to observations, mostly due to the construction of a local plant DNA database. We found a strong effect of season on variation in plant consumption largely shaped by the dry and wet seasons. The seasonal effect on arthropod consumption was weaker but feeding on arthropods was more frequent in spring and summer, showing overall that vervets adapt their diet according to available resources. The DNA metabarcoding assay outperformed also direct observations of arthropod consumption in both taxonomic coverage and resolution.

5. Combining traditional techniques and DNA metabarcoding data can therefore not only provide enhanced assessments of complex diets or reveal trophic interactions to the benefit of wildlife conservationists and managers but also opens new perspectives for behavioural ecologists studying whether diet variation in social species is induced by environmental differences or might reflect selective foraging behaviours.


European Research Council, Award: 949379

Swiss National Science Foundation, Award: 310030_192512

ETH Zurich, Award: PP00P3_170624

Swiss National Science Foundation, Award: PP00P3_170624

University of Lausanne, Award: Faculty of Biology and Medicine, Fellowship in Life Sciences