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Improving the application of quantitative fatty acid signature analysis in soil food webs: The effects of diet fat content

, Vanessa Henning, Liliane Ruess
Published: 9 July 2021

Abstract: Quantitative fatty acid signature analysis (QFASA) as a biochemical tool to study the diet composition of predators is frequently used in marine ecology to infer trophic links in vertebrate consumers. However, the potential and challenges of this method in other ecosystems have only recently been studied. The application in soil ecosystems leads to hurdles not encountered in the marine, such as the low similarity of fatty acid signatures between resource and consumer. So far, diet estimation attempts have been semisuccessful, necessitating to adapt QFASA for use in soil food webs. Dietary fat content may play an important role, as it influences consumer metabolism, and thus calibration coefficients for fatty acid trophic transfer. A series of feeding trials with baker's yeast spiked with five different pure fatty acids at various concentrations was conducted with Collembola, and the changes in calibration coefficients were observed. From there, equations were gained through regression analysis and new sets of calibration coefficients were calculated. QFASA was applied on a range of basal resources and the results compared with previously defined calibration coefficients. Calibration coefficients changed with the proportion of fatty acids in the diet and differed between the three Collembolan species. The re-estimation of diets showed an improvement of model performance by the new calibration coefficients and indicated several modes of fatty acid assimilation. These greatly influence the outcome of diet estimation, for example, algal and bacterial diets are likely underestimated due to high metabolic turnover rates. The application of QFASA in soil ecosystems remains challenging. The variation in calibration coefficients and the resulting decrease in estimation deviation indicate the merit of calculating calibration coefficients from consumer signatures through linear or exponential equations. Ideally, the method should, when extended to the entire fatty acid signature, allow correct determination of consumer diets in soil food webs.
Keywords: Collembola / lipids / quantitative fatty acid signature analysis / soil food webs

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