Trophic shifts of a generalist consumer in response to resource pulses

Pei Jen L. Shaner, Stephen A. Macko

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Trophic shifts of generalist consumers can have broad food-web and biodiversity consequences through altered trophic flows and vertical diversity. Previous studies have used trophic shifts as indicators of food-web responses to perturbations, such as species invasion, and spatial or temporal subsidies. Resource pulses, as a form of temporal subsidies, have been found to be quite common among various ecosystems, affecting organisms at multiple trophic levels. Although diet switching of generalist consumers in response to resource pulses is well documented, few studies have examined if the switch involves trophic shifts, and if so, the directions and magnitudes of the shifts. In this study, we used stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes with a Bayesian multi-source mixing model to estimate proportional contributions of three trophic groups (i.e. producer, consumer, and fungus-detritivore) to the diets of the White-footed mouse (Peromyscus leucopus) receiving an artificial seed pulse or a naturally-occurring cicadas pulse. Our results demonstrated that resource pulses can drive trophic shifts in the mice. Specifically, the producer contribution to the mouse diets was increased by 32% with the seed pulse at both sites examined. The consumer contribution to the mouse diets was also increased by 29% with the cicadas pulse in one of the two grids examined. However, the pattern was reversed in the second grid, with a 13% decrease in the consumer contribution with the cicadas pulse. These findings suggest that generalist consumers may play different functional roles in food webs under perturbations of resource pulses. This study provides one of the few highly quantitative descriptions on dietary and trophic shifts of a key consumer in forest food webs, which may help future studies to form specific predictions on changes in trophic interactions following resource pulses.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere17970
JournalPloS one
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry,Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General


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