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What do minerals in the feces of Bearded Vultures reveal about their dietary habits?

AuthorsMargalida, Antoni ; Schulze-Hagen, Karl; Wetterauer, Bernhard; Domhan, Cornelius; Oliva-Vidal, Pilar; Wink, Michael
KeywordsBone minerals
Fecal analyses
Food selection
Gypaetus barbatus
Uric acid
Issue Date2020
CitationScience of The Total Environment 728: 138836 (2020)
AbstractThe diet of Bearded Vultures Gypaetus barbatus consists mainly of bones, which are completely digested in the gastrointestinal tract, unwanted bone minerals being discarded via the feces. Chemical analyses of feces therefore provide a noninvasive technique for studying the diet of this species. We analysed the inorganic and organic remains in feces collected from Bearded Vulture nests in the Spanish Pyrenees and discussed these results with the diet of individuals determined by video camera observations. Of the food items delivered to the nest, taxonomically 65% were bone fragments of Ovis/Capra spp. (range 56–75%) and anatomically 76% (74–81%) bones from the extremities, indicating a selective preference. At least 15% of the diet was meat based, mainly originating from small prey (e.g. small carnivores, birds). The fecal analyses show that calcium and phosphorus are the most abundant mineral constituents, accounting for 41.3–44.4% of the mineral part of the feces. Among the minor elements identified, the variation in the concentrations of iron, silicon and zinc suggest differences in food selection between territories, although this could be related to varying amounts of accidentally ingested soil particles present in the food. We found variation in the content of uric acid in the feces, ranging between 0.5 and 4.6%. Higher values of uric acid might be due to a more meat or marrow bone-based diet. However, no relationship was found between the amount of calcium and uric acid levels, suggesting that the metabolites of meat digestion (uric acid) and those of bone digestion (calcium) are not negatively correlated as expected. In conclusion, our chemical analyses of feces collected from the nests of Bearded Vultures confirm that their diet consists mainly of bone remains and that these bones are digested completely. However, the direct observations of the prey items delivered to the nest produced more detailed information than the chemical analyses.
Publisher version (URL)https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.138836
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