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In what is likely the first study to look at how dietary preferences evolved across the animal kingdom, UA researchers looked at more than a million species, going back 800 million years. The team reports several unexpected discoveries, including that the first animal likely was a carnivore and that humans, along with other omnivores, belong to a rare breed.
What an animal eats is a fundamental aspect of its biology, but surprisingly, the evolution of diet had not been studied across the animal kingdom until now. Scientists at the University of Arizona report several unexpected findings from taking a deep dive into the evolutionary history of more than one million animal species and going back 800 million years, when the first animals appeared on our planet.
Study - Journal - Evolution - Letters - Insights
The study, published in the journal Evolution Letters, revealed several surprising key insights:
Many species living today that are carnivorous, meaning they eat other animals, can trace this diet back to a common ancestor more than 800 million years ago.
Driver - Species
A plant-based, or herbivorous, diet is not the evolutionary driver for new species that it was believed to be.
Closely related animals tend to share the same dietary category—plant-eating, meat-eating, or both. This finding implies that switching between dietary lifestyles is not something that happens easily and often over the course of evolution.
Román-Palacios - Joshua - Scholl - John - Wiens
Cristian Román-Palacios, Joshua Scholl and John Wiens, all with the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the UA, scoured the literature for data on the dietary habits of more than a million animal species, from sponges to insects and spiders to housecats. A species was classified as carnivorous if it feeds on other animals, fungi or protists (single-celled eukaryotic organisms, many of which live on bacteria). Species were classified as herbivorous if they depend on land plants, algae or cyanobacteria for food, and omnivorous if they...
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