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FORAGING STRATEGIES Optimal Foraging Theory Optimal foraging theory (OFT) = branch of behavioral ecology concerned with explaining foraging strategies in all species of animals (bees, birds, and humans) A thumbnail description of OFT = "decision rules for predators" (Krebs 1978) Thus, although initially developed in evolutionary biology, OFT has many affinities to Some main characteristics of OFT: 1) Consists of models (simplified mathematical representations) 2) Assumes cognitive mechanisms controlling foraging behavior are "designed" by natural selection to respond to changing conditions in way that maximizes benefits to forager (thus, actor-based, flexible, not narrow genetic determinism) 3) Focus is on strategies (general decision categories, e.g., prey choice) rather than tactics (species-specific techniques of capture) 4) Models based on optimization approach : decisions maximize some currency, given goals and constraints OFT breaks complexity of foraging process into discrete decision categories: 1) Prey choice (a.k.a. diet breadth) = what to harvest 2) Patch choice = where to forage 3) Time allocation = how long to forage for each alternative 4) Social foraging = with whom to forage (group size) or share (food, information) Will limit discussion here to prey choice (group size taken up later in course) Optimal Prey-Choice Model The problem of what prey to harvest is addressed with prey-choice or "optimal diet" model This model has been used by anthropologists and archaeologists wanting to explain prey choice and resource utilization patterns among H-Gs (reviews in Smith 1991; Kaplan & Hill 1992; Kelly 1995; Grayson & Cannon 1999; Can use it to answer following kinds of questions: 1) Why are some groups specialized in their food resource choices, while others have more diverse diet? 2) Why does prey choice shift over short or long term? (some prey types taken at time 1 but passed up at time 2) 3) Why are abundant resources sometimes ignored? Why are scarce resources sometimes taken whenever encountered? 4) How is optimal prey choice affected by changes in resource abundance? Forager
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