Assessing feeding preferences of a consumer guild: Partitioning variation among versus within species

O. Kennedy Rhoades, Rebecca J. Best, John J. Stachowicz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Interspecific variation in resource use is critical to understanding species diversity, coexistence, and ecosystem functioning. A growing body of research describes analogous intraspecific variation and its potential importance for population dynamics and community outcomes. However, the magnitude of intraspecific variation relative to interspecific variation in key dimensions of consumer-resource interactions remains unknown, hampering our understanding of the importance of this variation for population and community processes. In this study, we examine feeding preference through repeated laboratory choice feeding assays of 444 wild-caught individuals of eight invertebrate grazer species on rocky reefs in northern California. Between-species variation accounted for 25%–33% of the total variation in preference for the preferred resource, while between-individual variation accounted for 4%– 5% of total variation. For two of the eight species, between-individual variation was significantly different from zero and on average contributed 14% and 17% of the total diet variation, even after accounting for differences due to size and sex. Therefore, even with clearly distinguishable between-species differences in mean preference, diet variation between and within individuals can contribute to the dietary niche width of species and guilds, which may be overlooked by focusing solely on species’ mean resource use patterns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)287-300
Number of pages14
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2018


  • Dietary niche
  • Feeding preference
  • Herbivory
  • Intraspecific variation
  • Kelp forest
  • Rocky shore

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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