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Concept: Carnivore


Population-based studies have consistently shown that our diet has an influence on health. Therefore, the aim of our study was to analyze differences between different dietary habit groups in terms of health-related variables. The sample used for this cross-sectional study was taken from the Austrian Health Interview Survey AT-HIS 2006/07. In a first step, subjects were matched according to their age, sex, and socioeconomic status (SES). After matching, the total number of subjects included in the analysis was 1320 (N = 330 for each form of diet - vegetarian, carnivorous diet rich in fruits and vegetables, carnivorous diet less rich in meat, and carnivorous diet rich in meat). Analyses of variance were conducted controlling for lifestyle factors in the following domains: health (self-assessed health, impairment, number of chronic conditions, vascular risk), health care (medical treatment, vaccinations, preventive check-ups), and quality of life. In addition, differences concerning the presence of 18 chronic conditions were analyzed by means of Chi-square tests. Overall, 76.4% of all subjects were female. 40.0% of the individuals were younger than 30 years, 35.4% between 30 and 49 years, and 24.0% older than 50 years. 30.3% of the subjects had a low SES, 48.8% a middle one, and 20.9% had a high SES. Our results revealed that a vegetarian diet is related to a lower BMI and less frequent alcohol consumption. Moreover, our results showed that a vegetarian diet is associated with poorer health (higher incidences of cancer, allergies, and mental health disorders), a higher need for health care, and poorer quality of life. Therefore, public health programs are needed in order to reduce the health risk due to nutritional factors.

Concepts: Health, Medicine, Health care, Socioeconomic status, Diet, Public health, Carnivore, Nutrition


While foraging theory predicts that predatory responses should be determined by the energy content and size of prey, it is becoming increasingly clear that carnivores regulate their intake of specific nutrients. We tested the hypothesis that prey nutrient composition and predator nutritional history affects foraging intensity, consumption, and prey selection by the wolf spider, Pardosa milvina. By altering the rearing environment for fruit flies, Drosophila melanogaster, we produced high quality flies containing more nitrogen and protein and less lipid than low quality fruit flies. In one experiment, we quantified the proportion of flies taken and consumption across a range of densities of either high or low quality flies and, in a second experiment, we determined the prey capture and consumption of spiders that had been maintained on contrasting diets prior to testing. In both cases, the proportion of prey captured declined with increasing prey density, which characterizes the Type II functional response that is typical of wolf spiders. Spiders with similar nutritional histories killed similar numbers of each prey type but consumed more of the low quality prey. Spiders provided high quality prey in the weeks prior to testing killed more prey than those on the low quality diet but there was no effect of prior diet on consumption. In the third experiment, spiders were maintained on contrasting diets for three weeks and then allowed to select from a mixture of high and low quality prey. Interestingly, feeding history affected prey preferences: spiders that had been on a low quality diet showed no preference but those on the high quality diet selected high quality flies from the mixture. Our results suggest that, even when prey size and species identity are controlled, the nutritional experience of the predator as well as the specific content of the prey shapes predator-prey interactions.

Concepts: Insect, Wolf spider, Lotka–Volterra equation, Drosophila, Carnivore, Spider, Optimal foraging theory, Predation


Short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), metabolites produced through the microbial fermentation of nondigestible dietary components, have key roles in energy homeostasis. Animal research suggests that colon-derived SCFAs modulate feeding behavior via central mechanisms. In humans, increased colonic production of the SCFA propionate acutely reduces energy intake. However, evidence of an effect of colonic propionate on the human brain or reward-based eating behavior is currently unavailable.

Concepts: Fat, Butyric acid, Brain, Human, Human brain, Carnivore, Nutrition, Metabolism


In many Middle Pleistocene sites, the co-occurrence of hominins with carnivores, who both contributed to faunal accumulations, suggests competition for resources as well as for living spaces. Despite this, there is very little evidence of direct interaction between them to-date. Recently, a human femoral diaphysis has been recognized in South-West of Casablanca (Morocco), in the locality called Thomas Quarry I. This site is famous for its Middle Pleistocene fossil hominins considered representatives of Homo rhodesiensis. The bone was discovered in Unit 4 of the Grotte à Hominidés (GH), dated to c. 500 ky and was associated with Acheulean artefacts and a rich mammalian fauna. Anatomically, it fits well within the group of known early Middle Pleistocene Homo, but its chief point of interest is that the diaphyseal ends display numerous tooth marks showing that it had been consumed shortly after death by a large carnivore, probably a hyena. This bone represents the first evidence of consumption of human remains by carnivores in the cave. Whether predated or scavenged, this chewed femur indicates that humans were a resource for carnivores, underlining their close relationships during the Middle Pleistocene in Atlantic Morocco.

Concepts: Human anatomy, Hominidae, Carnivore, Mammal, Predation, Human evolution, Africa, Human


Large mammalian terrestrial herbivores, such as elephants, have dramatic effects on the ecosystems they inhabit and at high population densities their environmental impacts can be devastating. Pleistocene terrestrial ecosystems included a much greater diversity of megaherbivores (e.g., mammoths, mastodons, giant ground sloths) and thus a greater potential for widespread habitat degradation if population sizes were not limited. Nevertheless, based on modern observations, it is generally believed that populations of megaherbivores (>800 kg) are largely immune to the effects of predation and this perception has been extended into the Pleistocene. However, as shown here, the species richness of big carnivores was greater in the Pleistocene and many of them were significantly larger than their modern counterparts. Fossil evidence suggests that interspecific competition among carnivores was relatively intense and reveals that some individuals specialized in consuming megaherbivores. To estimate the potential impact of Pleistocene large carnivores, we use both historic and modern data on predator-prey body mass relationships to predict size ranges of their typical and maximum prey when hunting as individuals and in groups. These prey size ranges are then compared with estimates of juvenile and subadult proboscidean body sizes derived from extant elephant growth data. Young proboscideans at their most vulnerable age fall within the predicted prey size ranges of many of the Pleistocene carnivores. Predation on juveniles can have a greater impact on megaherbivores because of their long interbirth intervals, and consequently, we argue that Pleistocene carnivores had the capacity to, and likely did, limit megaherbivore population sizes.

Concepts: Carnivore, Mammoth, Lion, Elephantidae, Hunting, Mammal, Predation, Population density


Cats are obligate carnivores and under most circumstances eat only animal products. Owing to the pseudogenization of one of two subunits of the sweet receptor gene, they are indifferent to sweeteners, presumably having no need to detect plant-based sugars in their diet. Following this reasoning and a recent report of a positive correlation between the proportion of dietary plants and the number of Tas2r (bitter receptor) genes in vertebrate species, we tested the hypothesis that if bitter perception exists primarily to protect animals from poisonous plant compounds, the genome of the domestic cat (Felis catus) should have lost functional bitter receptors and they should also have reduced bitter receptor function. To test functionality of cat bitter receptors, we expressed cat Tas2R receptors in cell-based assays. We found that they have at least 7 functional receptors with distinct receptive ranges, showing many similarities, along with some differences, with human bitter receptors. To provide a comparative perspective, we compared the cat repertoire of intact receptors with those of a restricted number of members of the order Carnivora, with a range of dietary habits as reported in the literature. The numbers of functional bitter receptors in the terrestrial Carnivora we examined, including omnivorous and herbivorous species, were roughly comparable to that of cats thereby providing no strong support for the hypothesis that a strict meat diet influences bitter receptor number or function. Maintenance of bitter receptor function in terrestrial obligate carnivores may be due to the presence of bitter compounds in vertebrate and invertebrate prey, to the necessary role these receptors play in non-oral perception, or to other unknown factors. We also found that the two aquatic Carnivora species examined had fewer intact bitter receptors. Further comparative studies of factors driving numbers and functions of bitter taste receptors will aid in understanding the forces shaping their repertoire.

Concepts: Sweetness, Felis, Protein, Predation, Carnivore, Mammal, Felidae, Cat


The domestication of dogs was an important episode in the development of human civilization. The precise timing and location of this event is debated and little is known about the genetic changes that accompanied the transformation of ancient wolves into domestic dogs. Here we conduct whole-genome resequencing of dogs and wolves to identify 3.8 million genetic variants used to identify 36 genomic regions that probably represent targets for selection during dog domestication. Nineteen of these regions contain genes important in brain function, eight of which belong to nervous system development pathways and potentially underlie behavioural changes central to dog domestication. Ten genes with key roles in starch digestion and fat metabolism also show signals of selection. We identify candidate mutations in key genes and provide functional support for an increased starch digestion in dogs relative to wolves. Our results indicate that novel adaptations allowing the early ancestors of modern dogs to thrive on a diet rich in starch, relative to the carnivorous diet of wolves, constituted a crucial step in the early domestication of dogs.

Concepts: Dogs, Carnivore, Canidae, Gray Wolf, Nutrition, Natural selection, Genetics, Dog


There is a pressing need to integrate large carnivore species into multi-use landscapes outside protected areas. However, an unclear understanding of coexistence hinders the realization of this goal. Here, we provide a comprehensive conceptualization of coexistence in which mutual adaptations by both large carnivores and humans have a central role.

Concepts: Integral, Mutualism, Carnivore, Diet, Human, Predation, Mammal


Mammals dominate modern terrestrial herbivore ecosystems, whereas extant herbivorous reptiles are limited in diversity and body size. The evolution of reptile herbivory and its relationship to mammalian diversification is poorly understood with respect to climate and the roles of predation pressure and competition for food resources. Here, we describe a giant fossil acrodontan lizard recovered with a diverse mammal assemblage from the late middle Eocene Pondaung Formation of Myanmar, which provides a historical test of factors controlling body size in herbivorous squamates. We infer a predominately herbivorous feeding ecology for the new acrodontan based on dental anatomy, phylogenetic relationships and body size. Ranking body masses for Pondaung Formation vertebrates indicates that the lizard occupied a size niche among the larger herbivores and was larger than most carnivorous mammals. Paleotemperature estimates of Pondaung Formation environments based on the body size of the new lizard are approximately 2-5°C higher than modern. These results indicate that competitive exclusion and predation by mammals did not restrict body size evolution in these herbivorous squamates, and elevated temperatures relative to modern climates during the Paleogene greenhouse may have resulted in the evolution of gigantism through elevated poikilothermic metabolic rates and in response to increases in floral productivity.

Concepts: Carnivore, Predation, Reptile, Herbivore, Omnivore, Mesozoic, Mammal, Animal


The theoretical optimal olfactory search strategy is to move cross-wind. Empirical evidence supporting wind-associated directionality among carnivores, however, is sparse. We examined satellite-linked telemetry movement data of adult female polar bears (Ursus maritimus) from Hudson Bay, Canada, in relation to modelled winds, in an effort to understand olfactory search for prey. In our results, the predicted cross-wind movement occurred most frequently at night during winter, the time when most hunting occurs, while downwind movement dominated during fast winds, which impede olfaction. Migration during sea ice freeze-up and break-up was also correlated with wind. A lack of orientation during summer, a period with few food resources, likely reflected reduced cross-wind search. Our findings represent the first quantitative description of anemotaxis, orientation to wind, for cross-wind search in a large carnivore. The methods are widely applicable to olfactory predators and their prey. We suggest windscapes be included as a habitat feature in habitat selection models for olfactory animals when evaluating what is considered available habitat.

Concepts: Sea ice, Hunting, Omnivore, Scientific method, Bear, Predation, Carnivore, Polar bear