Evolutionary History of What Mammals Eat: Some Groups of Mammals Have Changed Their Feeding Strategies Over Time
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ScienceDaily (Apr. 16, 2012) — The feeding habits of mammals haven't always been what they are today, particularly for omnivores, finds a new study. Some groups of mammals almost exclusively eat meat -- take lions and tigers and other big cats, for example. Other mammals such as deer, cows and antelope are predominantly plant-eaters, living on a diet of leaves, shoots, fruits and bark. But particularly for omnivores that live on plant foods in addition to meat, the situation wasn't always that way, finds a new study by researchers working at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham, North Carolina.
Past studies have shown that animals with similar diets tend to share certain characteristics. But this study is the first of its kind to look across all mammal groups, including omnivores, to reconstruct how mammal diets have changed over evolutionary time.
To do that, the researchers compiled previously published diet data for more than 1500 species representing more than one third of mammals alive today, including primates, ungulates, bats, rabbits and rodents.
By mapping that data onto the mammal family tree, the researchers were able to trace backwards in time and infer what the ancestors of each species most likely ate.
They found that while some groups of mammals maintained steady diets,
others changed their feeding strategies over time.