Telling tails: recreating the nutrition diary of Serengeti wildebeest
Published: 13 June 2016
A team of researchers from the Institute have developed techniques to recreate a personalised diary of an animal’s lifetime. The research allows researchers to recreate nutritional timelines that illuminate the past experiences of Serengeti wildebeest by looking only at the animals’ tail hair.
Researchers have developed techniques to recreate a personalised diary of an animal’s lifetime.
The team from the Institute were able to recreate nutritional timelines that illuminate the past experiences of Serengeti wildebeest by looking only at the animals’ tail hair. The work, published in Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry, shows how nitrogen stable isotopes can be used to reconstruct nutritional histories that revealed repeating periods of extreme starvation in the world’s most famous migration of terrestrial animals.
The technique is akin to looking at the rings of a tree and can be used in a similar manner to re-create the animal’s physiological history. Hair incorporates metabolites from the body as it grows and offers a continuous record of the chronic condition of the wildebeest. By collecting hair from a single observation of an animal, the researchers were able to forensically determine the animals’ past experiences. They also stress this technique has a wider potential and could be used to unravel the hidden secrets of other species as well.
Lead author Kristyna Rysava said:
The researchers found out that starvation patterns in the wildebeests are driven primarily by the demands associated with reproduction; and that the enrichment of nitrogen stable isotopes in the tail hair strongly correlates with periods when the animals use more energy than they can get from their food. The results of the study suggest there are very distinct phases during the great migration when animals pass through starvation bottlenecks and are more likely to die.
Dr Grant Hopcraft, scientific lead and corresponding author, said:
The article, "Re-constructing nutritional history of Serengeti wildebeest from stable isotopes in tail hair: seasonal starvation patterns in an obligate grazer" is published in Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry.
First published: 13 June 2016