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The School of Natural Sciences


 Unravelling the Determinants and Consequences of Diet Selection

Matthew Hutchinson, Ph.D.

Institute for Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Sciences

Universität Zürich



Tuesday, November 30th, 2021


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Diet composition shapes the lives of animals and the structure of ecosystems, yet our understanding of diet selection, switching, and cascading effects remain incomplete. As animal's energy budgets and ecological-community composition are reshaped by the climate crisis, those gaps become increasingly pertinent and my work attempts to address them. In Mozambique, low-intensity perturbations (i.e., seasonality, population growth) lead large-mammalian herbivores to switch their diets in order to reduce competition; whether the same is true for higher intensity perturbations remains unknown. In a Kenyan savanna, large herbivores indirectly affect pollinators via the plants they mutually depend on, which highlights the potential of plants to transmit indirect effects among primary-consumer guilds. To predict and manage a diverse range of possible ecosystem cascades, we require better tools to predict animals' diets, which may be helped by the finding that vertebrates' diets are often dominated by just a few food taxa. Approaching diet selection from a variety of angles, my work strives for an integrative trophic ecology that reaches from the behavior of individuals to the structure of ecosystems.



Matthew is a postdoctoral researcher with Jordi Bascompte at Universität Zürich in Switzerland and did his PhD with Robert Pringle and Andrew Dobson at Princeton University. Using large-mammalian herbivores as a focal group, his work strives to understand trophic interactions from the scale of individual decisions up to ecosystem structure and evolutionary dynamics. He uses empirical, molecular, and computational tools to chart dietary choices and their consequences.


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Prof. Justin Yeakel at     

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