Luis da Silva

and 4 more

Although sexual dietary differentiation is well known in birds, it is usually linked with significant morphological dimorphism between males and females, with lower differentiation reported in sexually monomorphic or only slightly dimorphic species. However, this may be an artefact of poor taxonomic resolution achieved in most conventional dietary studies, which may be unable to detect subtle intraspecific differentiation in prey consumption. Here we show the power of multi-marker metabarcoding to address these issues, focusing on a slightly dimorphic generalist passerine, the black wheatear Oenanthe leucura. Using markers from four genomic regions (18S, 16S, COI and trnL), we analysed faecal droppings collected from 93 adult black wheatears during the breeding season. We found that sexes were rather similar in bill and body features, though males had a slightly thicker bill and longer wings and tail than females. Diet was dominated in both sexes by a very wide range of arthropod species and a few fleshy fruits, but the overall diet diversity was higher for males than females, and there was a much higher frequency of occurrence of ants in female (58%) than male (29%) diets. We hypothesise that the observed sexual differentiation was likely related to females foraging closer to their offspring on abundant prey, while males consumed a wider variety of prey while foraging more widely. Overall, our results suggest that dietary sexual differentiation in birds may be more widespread than recognised at present, and that multi-marker DNA metabarcoding is a particularly powerful tool to unveiling such differences.