Prey nutrient content creates omnivores out of predators
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The proximate forces that create omnivores out of herbivores and predators have long fascinated ecologists, but the causal reasons for a shift to omnivory are poorly understood. Determining what factors influence changes in trophic position are essential as omnivory plays a central role in theoretical and applied ecology. We used sevenspotted lady beetles (Coccinella septempunctata) to test how prey nutrient content affects beetles' propensity to engage in herbivory. We show that beetles consuming an all-prey diet demonstrate normal growth and development, but suffer a complete loss of fitness (spermatogenic failure) that is restored via herbivory and supplementation with phytosterols and cholesterol. Furthermore, we show that lady beetles possess a state-dependent sterol-specific appetite and redressed their sterol deficit by feeding on foliage. These results demonstrate that predators balance their nutrient intake via herbivory when prey quality is low, and reveal a selective force (sterol nutrition) that drives predatory taxa to omnivory.
author list (cited authors)
Ugine, T. A., Krasnoff, S. B., Grebenok, R. J., Behmer, S. T., & Losey, J. E.