Multi-locus DNA metabarcoding reveals seasonality of foraging ecology of western spotted skunks in the Pacific Northwest

Publications Type: 
Journal Article
Publication Number: 

Tosa, Marie I.; Lesmeister, Damon B.; Allen, Jennifer M.; Levi, Taal. 2023. Multi-locus DNA metabarcoding reveals seasonality of foraging ecology of western spotted skunks in the Pacific Northwest. Ecosphere. 14(1): e4386. doi:


There are increasing concerns about the declining population trends of small mammalian carnivores around the world. Their conservation and management are often challenging due to limited knowledge about their ecology and natural history. To address one of these deficiencies for western spotted skunks (Spilogale gracilis), we investigated their diet in the Oregon Cascades of the Pacific Northwest during 2017?2019. We collected 130 spotted skunk scats opportunistically and with detection dog teams and identified prey items using DNA metabarcoding and mechanical sorting. Western spotted skunk diet consisted of invertebrates, such as wasps, millipedes, and gastropods; vertebrates, such as small mammals, amphibians, and birds; and plants, such as Gaultheria, Rubus, and Vaccinium. Diet also consisted of items, such as black-tailed deer, that were likely scavenged. Comparison in diet by season revealed that spotted skunks consumed more insects during the dry season (June?August), particularly wasps (75% of scats in the dry season), and marginally more mammals during the wet season (September?May). We observed a similar diet in areas with no record of human disturbance and areas with a history of logging at most spatial scales, but scats collected in areas with older forest within a skunk's home range (1-km buffer) were more likely to contain insects. Western spotted skunks provide food web linkages between aquatic, terrestrial, and arboreal systems and serve functional roles of seed dispersal and scavenging. Due to their diverse diet and prey switching, western spotted skunks may dampen the effects of irruptions of prey, such as wasps, during dry springs and summers. By studying the natural history of western spotted skunks in the Pacific Northwest forests, while they are still abundant, we provide key information necessary to achieve the conservation goal of keeping this common species common.
Keywords: diet, DNA metabarcoding, generalist predator, land-use change, small carnivore, Spilogale gracilis