What determines prey selection in owls? Roles of prey traits, prey class, environmental variables, and taxonomic specialization

Orr Comay*, Tamar Dayan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ecological theory suggests that prey size should increase with predator size, but this trend may be masked by other factors affecting prey selection, such as environmental constraints or specific prey preferences of predator species. Owls are an ideal case study for exploring how predator body size affects prey selection in the presence of other factors due to the ease of analyzing their diets from owl pellets and their widespread distributions, allowing interspecific comparisons between variable habitats. Here, we analyze various dimensions of prey resource selection among owls, including prey size, taxonomy (i.e., whether or not particular taxa are favored regardless of their size), and prey traits (movement type, social structure, activity pattern, and diet). We collected pellets of five sympatric owl species (Athene noctua, Tyto alba, Asio otus, Strix aluco, and Bubo bubo) from 78 sites across the Mediterranean Levant. Prey intake was compared between sites, with various environmental variables and owl species as predictors of abundance. Despite significant environmental impacts on prey intake, some key patterns emerge among owl species studied. Owls select prey by predator body size: Larger owls tend to feed on wider ranges of prey sizes, leading to higher means. In addition, guild members show both specialization and generalism in terms of prey taxa, sometimes in contrast with the expectations of the predator–prey body size hypothesis. Our results suggest that while predator body size is an important factor in prey selection, taxon specialization by predator species also has considerable impact.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3382-3392
Number of pages11
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number6
StatePublished - Mar 2018


  • Israel
  • body size
  • owls
  • predator specialization
  • prey selection


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