Honours Research Project Opportunities: Dietary Essential Nutrition in Carnivores

Supervisors: Dr Shawn Wilder and Prof. Stephen Simpson

Nutrition, the balance of different types of compounds in foods, is of considerable importance to animals. Improper nutrient balances in an animal’s diet can have important consequences for behaviour, growth and longevity. To date, much of the work on nutrition has examined herbivorous and omnivorous species. This research has uncovered exciting results including the importance of protein for human obesity and how nutrient deficiencies drive locust swarms.

It is also important to study the nutrition of carnivores because they can have large direct and indirect effects on the functioning of food webs. Carnivores have traditionally been hypothesized to be food-limited and to forage to maximize their energy intake. However, recent work suggests that the macronutrient (i.e., lipid and protein) content of prey can have large effects on the growth and behaviour of carnivores.

We are interested in examining the nutritional ecology of carnivorous arthropods (e.g., spiders and praying mantids) to determine which nutrients are needed by carnivores for growth and survival, how carnivores resolve nutrient deficiencies, and differences between the nutrition of herbivores and carnivores. One important question that we would like to address is whether particular nutrients are required in the diet of carnivores (i.e., which nutrients are “dietary essential” nutrients). For example, work on cats has shown that they lack the ability to synthesize certain nutrients that can be synthesized in herbivorous and omnivorous animals. We are interested in examining if similar dietary essential nutrients could limit the growth and survival of carnivorous arthropods like spiders and praying mantids.