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DNA Metabarcoding-based Evaluation of the Diet of Big Brown Bats (Eptesicus fuscus) in the Mid-Atlantic Region

Sabrina Deeley1,*, Lin Kang2,3, Pawel Michalak3,4,5, Eric Hallerman6, and W. Mark Ford7

1United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Chesapeake Bay Field Office, Annapolis, MD 21401. 2Biomedical Research, Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine, Monroe, LA 71203. 3Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, VA–MD Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24060. 4Center for One Health Research, VA–MD Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, Blacksburg, VA 24060. 5Institute of Evolution, Haifa University, Haifa 3498838, Israel. 6Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061. 7US Geological Survey, Virginia Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Blacksburg, VA 24061. *Corresponding author.

Northeastern Naturalist, Volume 29, Issue 4 (2022): 454–473

High-throughput DNA sequencing can generate large genetic datasets in a cost-effective manner. Although the diet of Eptesicus fuscus (Big Brown Bat) has been studied widely in natural and rural systems using visual identification of prey items in feces, our aim was to more completely assess diet using a metabarcoding approach across a wide urban–natural landscape gradient in the mid-Atlantic region. Concordant with our expectations and previous Big Brown Bat diet studies from visual identification, we observed a high abundance of Coleoptera (beetles) relative to other insect orders. Although a possible improvement over visual techniques for studying food habits, we suggest caution in interpreting metabarcoding results in diet studies. We noted observations of environmental or contaminant taxa within these data, and designed a stringent filtering method we used to eliminate these taxa, but that also removed previoulsy documented prey taxa from our dataset.

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