Data from: The influence of meal size on prey DNA detectability in piscivorous birds
Thalinger, Bettina; Oehm, Johannes; Obwexer, Armin; Traugott, Michael (2017), Data from: The influence of meal size on prey DNA detectability in piscivorous birds, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.cr922
Molecular methods allow non-invasive assessment of vertebrate predator-prey systems at high taxonomic resolution by examining dietary samples such as faeces and pellets. To facilitate the interpretation of field-derived data, feeding trials, investigating the impacts of biological, methodological, and environmental factors on prey DNA detection have been conducted. The effect of meal size, however, has not yet been explicitly considered for vertebrate consumers. Moreover, different non-invasively obtained sample types remain to be compared in such experiments. Here, we present a feeding trial on abundant piscivorous birds, Great Cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo), to assess meal size effects on post-feeding prey DNA detection success. Faeces and pellets were sampled twice a day after the feed of large (350-540 g), medium (190-345 g), and small (15-170 g) fish meals contributing either a large (>79%) or small (<38%) share to the daily consumption. Samples were examined for prey DNA and fish hard parts. Molecular analysis of faeces revealed that both large meal size and share had a significantly positive effect on prey DNA detection rate post-feeding. Furthermore, large meals were detectable for a significantly longer time span with a detection limit at ~76 h and a 50% detection probability at ~32 h post-feeding. In pellets, molecular methods reliably identified the meal consumed the previous day, which was not possible via morphological analysis or when examining individual faeces. The less reliable prey DNA detection of small meals or meal shares in faeces signifies the importance of large numbers of dietary samples to obtain reliable trophic data.