Royal Society Open Science – https://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.230337
Individual animals should adjust diets according to food availability. We used DNA metabarcoding to construct individual-level dietary timeseries for elephants from two family groups in Kenya varying in habitat use, social position and reproductive status. We detected at least 367 dietary plant taxa, with up to 137 unique plant sequences in one fecal sample. Results matched well-established trends: elephants tended to eat more grass when it rained and other plants when dry. Nested within these switches from ‘grazing’ to ‘browsing’ strategies, dietary DNA revealed seasonal shifts in food richness, composition and overlap between individuals. Elephants of both families converged on relatively cohesive diets in dry seasons but varied in their maintenance of cohesion during wet seasons. Dietary cohesion throughout the timeseries of the subdominant ‘Artists’ family was stronger and more consistently positive compared to the dominant ‘Royals’ family. The greater degree of individuality within the dominant family's timeseries could reflect more divergent nutritional requirements associated with calf dependency and/or priority access to preferred habitats. Whereas theory predicts that individuals should specialize on different foods under resource scarcity, our data suggest family bonds may promote cohesion and foster the emergence of diverse feeding cultures reflecting links between social behaviour and nutrition.