Revealing cryptic interactions between large mammalian herbivores and plant-dwelling arthropods via DNA metabarcoding

Tali S. Berman, Moshe Inbar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the past decade, it has become clear that omnivory, feeding on more than one trophic level, is important in natural and agricultural systems. Large mammalian herbivores (LMH) frequently encounter plant-dwelling arthropods (PDA) on their food plants. Yet, ingestion of PDA by LMH is only rarely addressed and the extent of this direct trophic interaction, especially at the PDA community level, remains unknown. Using a DNA-metabarcoding analysis on feces of free-ranging cattle from a replicated field experiment of heavily and moderately grazed paddocks, we reveal that feeding cattle (incidentally) ingest an entire food chain of PDA including herbivores, predators and parasites. Overall, 25 families of insects and four families of arachnids were ingested, a pattern that varied over the season, but not with grazing intensity. We identified the functional groups of PDA vulnerable to ingestion, such as sessile species and immature life stages. Most of the fecal samples (76%) contained sequences belonging to PDA, indicating that direct interactions are frequent. This study highlights the complex trophic connections between LMH and PDA. It may even be appropriate to consider LMH as omnivorous enemies of PDA.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere03548
Pages (from-to)e03548
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the staff of “Karei Deshe” for their valuable support. We thank Roni Lombrozo Amzallag, Dr. Daniel Schlesinger, Dr. Miriam Kishinevsky, Dr. Eva Leman, Dr. Daniel Melamed and Dr. Mozy Gish for their technical assistance and fruitful discussions. We thank Dr. Maya Lalzar and Professor Ido Izhaki for their statistical assistance. We also thank Lina Gurevich for the lovely cow illustration in Fig.  1 . Finally, we thank Dr. Rami Reshef for the use of his laboratory and Professor Tamar Keasar for the use of the suction sampler. We thank the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments. This research was supported by The Israel Science Foundation (grant No. 248/17).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors. Ecology published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of Ecological Society of America

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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