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Krueger, Thilo; Cross, Adam T.; Hübner, Jeremy; Morinière, Jérôme; Hausmann, Axel; Fleischmann, Andreas (2022): A novel approach for reliable qualitative and quantitative prey spectra identification of carnivorous plants combining DNA metabarcoding and macro photography. Scientific Reports, 12: 4778. ISSN 2045-2322

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Prey spectra (the number and composition of captured arthropods) represent a crucial aspect of carnivorous plant ecology, yet remain poorly studied. Traditional morphology-based approaches for prey identification are time-intensive, require specialists with considerable knowledge of arthropod taxonomy, and are hampered by high numbers of unidentifiable (i.e., heavily digested) prey items. We examined prey spectra of three species of closely-related annual Drosera (Droseraceae, sundews) from tropical northern Australia using a novel DNA metabarcoding approach with in-situ macro photography as a plausibility control and to facilitate prey quantity estimations. This new method facilitated accurate analyses of carnivorous plant prey spectra (even of heavily digested prey lacking characteristic morphological features) at a taxonomic resolution and level of completeness far exceeding morphology-based methods and approaching the 100% mark at arthropod order level. Although the three studied species exhibited significant differences in detected prey spectra, little prey specialisation was observed and habitat or plant population density variations were likely the main drivers of prey spectra dissimilarity.

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