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Evolution of mammalian dietary strategies and the importance of omnivory

PI(s): Samantha Hopkins (University of Oregon)
Start Date: 14-Aug-2010
End Date: 27-Aug-2010

Mammals are arguably the best-studied group of organisms on Earth and yet relatively little is known about how mammalian dietary strategies have evolved across the phylogeny. Studies of dietary evolution have focused on specific dietary categories or individual clades of mammals. This specificity deprives us of the ability to generalize about common processes of evolution of mammalian diets. We have collated species-level dietary data from the scientific literature for all mammals. By synthesising it with an already published time-calibrated phylogeny for all mammals we will be able to describe these important macroevolutionary patterns. Analyses will include estimating the rates of transition between dietary categories, detailing the association between changes in body size and diet as well as estimating the effect of diet on diversification. This research will enable us to answer fundamental questions about the rate of evolution of major dietary transitions and the influence of diet on diversification potential. Additionally, combining the dietary data with publicly available databases on mammalian life history will allow us to examine the relationship between diet, body size and the reproductive rate. The datasets associated with this project are a valuable contribution to mammalian life history research and will be made available for other researchers via Dryad.

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