An updated global data set for diet preferences in terrestrial mammals: testing the validity of extrapolation

Alison M. Gainsbury*, Oliver J.S. Tallowin, Shai Meiri

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Diet is a key trait of an organism's life history that influences a broad spectrum of ecological and evolutionary processes. Kissling et al. (2014; Ecology and Evolution 4: 2913–2930) compiled a species-specific data set of diet preferences of mammals for 38% of a total of 5364 terrestrial mammalian species assessed for the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List, to facilitate future studies. The authors imputed dietary data for the remaining 62% by using extrapolation from phylogenetic relatives. We collected dietary information for 1261 mammalian species for which data were extrapolated by Kissling et al. (2014), in order to evaluate the success with which such extrapolation can predict true diets. The extrapolation method devised by Kissling et al. (2014) performed well for broad dietary categories (consumers of plants and animals). However, the method performed inconsistently, and sometimes poorly, for finer dietary categories, varying in accuracy in both dietary categories and mammalian orders. The results of the extrapolation performance serve as a cautionary tale. Given the large variation in extrapolation performance, we recommend a more conservative approach for inferring mammalian diets, whereby dietary extrapolation is implemented only when there is a high degree of phylogenetic conservatism for dietary traits. Phylogenetic comparative methods can be used to detect and measure phylogenetic signal in diet. If data for species are needed, then only the broadest feeding categories should be used. This would ensure a greater level of accuracy and provide a more robust data set for further ecological and evolutionary analysis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)160-167
Number of pages8
JournalMammal Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2018


FundersFunder number
Azrieli Foundation


    • dietary data set
    • dietary guilds
    • extrapolation validity
    • mammalia
    • trophic level


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