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Should fatty acid signature proportions sum to 1 for diet estimation?

June 1, 2016

Knowledge of predator diets, including how diets might change through time or differ among predators, provides essential insights into their ecology. Diet estimation therefore remains an active area of research within quantitative ecology. Quantitative fatty acid signature analysis (QFASA) is an increasingly common method of diet estimation. QFASA is based on a data library of prey signatures, which are vectors of proportions summarizing the fatty acid composition of lipids, and diet is estimated as the mixture of prey signatures that most closely approximates a predator’s signature. Diets are typically estimated using proportions from a subset of all fatty acids that are known to be solely or largely influenced by diet. Given the subset of fatty acids selected, the current practice is to scale their proportions to sum to 1.0. However, scaling signature proportions has the potential to distort the structural relationships within a prey library and between predators and prey. To investigate that possibility, we compared the practice of scaling proportions with two alternatives and found that the traditional scaling can meaningfully bias diet estimators under some conditions. Two aspects of the prey types that contributed to a predator’s diet influenced the magnitude of the bias: the degree to which the sums of unscaled proportions differed among prey types and the identifiability of prey types within the prey library. We caution investigators against the routine scaling of signature proportions in QFASA.

Publication Year 2016
Title Should fatty acid signature proportions sum to 1 for diet estimation?
DOI 10.1007/s11284-016-1357-8
Authors Jeffrey F. Bromaghin, Suzanne M. Budge, Gregory W. Thiemann
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecological Research
Index ID 70173861
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center Biology MFEB