Crane diets sequenced

Miranda Bertram at Texas A&M sent us some sandhill and whooping crane fecal samples to analyze for diets. So far, we’ve analyzed the samples for plants (invertebrates are coming). A few things were interesting. First, when the sandhill cranes were eating corn, the diet was dominated by corn DNA. When the cranes weren’t, we found plants that were expected in the diet. Like wolfberry (Lycium spp.). Some weren’t necessarily expected, but were not unexpected. Like oak. Some weren’t expected at all. Like willow (Salix spp.). One question that we have now is whether the cranes are actually directly consuming these plants, whether the DNA is a secondary contaminant from being on the ground, or (more excitedly) represents the diet of prey. For example, if the cranes are eating snails that are concentrating on Salix or Salicornia or Oenothera, are we picking that up in the fecals. If so, this would be an exciting development in food web ecology.