The southern meadow jumping mouse (Zapus luteus luteus) is Endangered in the US due to loss of riparian habitat and knowledge of diet can focus conservation efforts. Context and life stages of diet have been documented for other species of Zapus (seeds, insect larvae, and hypogeous fungi), possibly shifting toward greater diversity in seed predations prior to hibernation. Yet, challenges in field observation, thorough digestion, and lack of scalability have hindered a thorough survey of dietary taxonomies. We collected the feces of 165 Z. l. luteus from across the geographic range. Emphasizing granivorous diet, we used DNA metabarcoding to resolve its dietary taxonomies. With negligible impact of field contamination, we found a varied diet most frequently of graminoids, forbs, and lepidoptera. Detecting up to nine dietary taxa in individuals, Z. l. luteus consumed more and different combinations of plant taxa as they approached the known hibernation window. Our work emphasizes the importance of forbs and graminoids as the foundation of the diet, providing primary sustenance and habitat for insect prey. The breadth of different diet items they consume suggests plasticity in resource use, potentially accommodating diverse patterns of seed production throughout their active period. We also hypothesize that a peak in seed availability in the late season could play a role in their accumulation of pre-hibernation fat stores.
|Date made available||2022|