Isotopic Analysis of Diet Specificity in the Chisel-toothed Kangaroo Rat, Dipodomys microps Public

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  • Rapid changes in global climate have put many species at risk, particularly niche specialists. The Chisel-toothed kangaroo rat, Dipodomys microps, is thought to specialize on the desert shrub Atriplex confertifolia. Because of this close relationship, D. microps was presumed to have tracked the shrub as its distribution shifted south during the last glacial maximum. However, recent phylogeographic evidence shows that D. microps’ distribution did not shift, despite the environmental changes during the last glacial maximum, posing an interesting question: How did D. microps persist in place when the plant on which it specializes did not inhabit the area? Concentrations of stable isotopes found within D. microps bone collagen were used to explore diet variability in the species over the past 8,000 years. Average δ13C values through time indicated that D. microps is capable of consuming plants other than A. confertifolia and a comparison of δ15N values to sympatric species showed that D. microps could also be consuming animal protein. Analysis of body size indicated that populations of D. microps did not experience a shift in average body size through time, but instead responded to changing abiotic conditions by shifting its dietary niche, as indicated by fluctuating values of δ13C and δ15N through time. Understanding which species are capable of behavioral and/or physiological responses to changing climate will allow us to better predict the impacts of ongoing and future climate change.
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