Research calls for a new diet classification for mammals

Jul 09, 2014
Credit: Flickr/ Kitty Terwolbeck

The analysis of 139 land mammals' dietary preferences has led researchers to call for a new classification system, as many diets were varied beyond the current understanding of herbivore, carnivore, or omnivore.

Research by Macquarie University's Silvia Pineda-Munoz, and Associate Professor John Alroy found that the majority of mammals eat both plant and animal foods and so very few are pure "herbivores" or "carnivores".

Additionally, the widely used "omnivore" category puts eating meat and vegetation together with ones eating insects and seeds, which are very distinctive dietary specialisations.

The researchers instead suggest classifying species based on their main food choice, and also propose using the term "generalist" for animals without a particular dietary preference.

A suggested list of main dietary specialisations includes granivores, insectivores, carnivores, herbivores and frugivores among others.

"Diet needs to be thoroughly described and classified because it tells us how animals interact with each other and with their environment," said lead researcher Silvia Pineda-Munoz.

"A good dietary classification helps scientists understand how animals evolved or what extinct species ate millions of years ago. Thus, researchers need a uniform dietary classification that allows for easier comparison among studies.

"It makes sense to group similar diet types into categories, but we need this to accurately reflect what is actually being eaten. Our research indicates that the common herbivore versus carnivore categories are misleading."

The researchers collated data from a variety of animals from around the world including brown bears, the Australian red-legged pademelon or the long-tailed pygmy possum, spider monkeys, chipmunks, and the common mouse.

The full paper "Dietary characterization of terrestrial mammals," is to be published by Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Explore further: Avoiding poisons: A matter of bitter taste

More information: Silvia Pineda-Munoz and John Alroy. "Dietary characterization of terrestrial mammals." Proc. R. Soc. B August 22, 2014 281 1789 20141173; DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2014.1173 1471-2954

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Avoiding poisons: A matter of bitter taste

Nov 18, 2013

In most animals, taste has evolved to avoid all things bitter—-a key to survival—- to avoid eating something that could be poisonous via taste receptors, known as Tas2r, that quickly spring into action and elicit the ...

Women urged to eat more vegetables

May 26, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—Less than two per cent of Australian women are eating the recommended five servings of vegetables a day, according to new research from The University of Queensland.

Locusts harness the sun to get their optimum diet

Jul 01, 2014

If you are a locust, the most nutritious plant to eat depends on the ambient temperature. Scientists at the University of Sydney, Australia, have discovered that locusts choose their food and then where they ...

Recommended for you

Meteorite that doomed dinosaurs remade forests

14 hours ago

The meteorite impact that spelled doom for the dinosaurs 66 million years ago decimated the evergreens among the flowering plants to a much greater extent than their deciduous peers, according to a study ...

New camera sheds light on mate choice of swordtail fish

15 hours ago

We have all seen a peacock show its extravagant, colorful tail feathers in courtship of a peahen. Now, a group of researchers have used a special camera developed by an engineer at Washington University in ...

App helps homeowners identify spiders

18 hours ago

Each autumn the number of spiders seen indoors suddenly increases as males go on the hunt for a mate. The Society of Biology is launching a new app to help the public learn more about the spiders that will ...

User comments : 0