‘Dust you shall eat’: The complex nutritional and functional considerations underlying a simple diet

Moshe Zaguri*, Irit Mogilevsky, David Raubenheimer, Dror Hawlena

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Animals assimilate macronutrients and mineral nutrients in specific quantities and ratios to maximise fitness. To achieve this, animals must ingest different foods that contain the needed nutrients or facilitate the digestion of those nutrients. We explored how these multidimensional considerations affect the desert isopods (Hemilepistus reaumuri) curious food selection, using field and laboratory experiments. Wild isopods consumed three-fold more macronutrient-poor biological soil crust (BSC) than plant litter. Isopods tightly regulated macronutrient and calcium intake, but not phosphorus when eating the two natural foods and when artificial calcium and phosphorus sources substituted the BSC. Despite the equivalent calcium ingestion, isopods performed better when eating BSC compared to artificial foods. Isopods that consumed BSC sterilised by gamma-radiation ate more but grew slower than isopods that ate live BSC, implying that ingested microorganisms facilitate litter digestion. Our work highlights the need to reveal the multifaceted considerations that affect food-selection when exploring trophic-interactions.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere14414
JournalEcology Letters
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 The Authors. Ecology Letters published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • biological soil crust
  • calcium
  • desert isopod
  • diet choice
  • food selection
  • nutritional ecology
  • nutritional geometry
  • phosphorus
  • plant litter


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