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Assessing diet in savanna herbivores using stable carbon isotope ratios of faeces

D. Codron, J. Codron, M. Sponheimer, Julia A. Lee-Thorp, T. Robinson, C.C. Grant, D. de Ruiter

Koedoe; Vol 48, No 1 (2005), 115-124. doi: 10.4102/koedoe.v48i1.170

Submitted: 30 June 2005
Published:  30 June 2005


In African savannas, browse-based resources (@3 plants) are isotopically distinct from grasses (@4 plants). The carbon isotopic composition of the basic plant diet is recorded in animal tissues. Mammal faeces are a readily accessible, non-invasive, sample material for temporally resolved dietary reconstructions. Faeces, however, include both undigested plant matter and waste, hence accuracy of dietary calculations could potentially be compromised by shifts in plant isotopic values related to seasonal or spatial differences, or by variability in the isotopic differences between faeces and diet. A controlled feeding study of four ungulate species showed a small, consistent difference between diet and faeces of-0.9 o, irrespective of whether the diet was @3 or C4-based. Results from faeces oftaxa known to be pure grazers, pure browsers, and mixed-feeders from the Kruger National Park were entirely consistent with their diets, but the accuracy of dietary reconstructions is enhanced with data from local plant communities.

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Author affiliations

D. Codron, University of Cape Town, South Africa
J. Codron, University of Cape Town, South Africa
M. Sponheimer, University of Colorado at Boulder, United States
Julia A. Lee-Thorp, University of Cape Town, South Africa
T. Robinson, Brigham Young University, United States
C.C. Grant, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
D. de Ruiter, Texas A & M University, United States


herbivores; diet; plants; faeces; isotopic variability


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ISSN: 0075-6458 (print) | ISSN: 2071-0771 (online)

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