Foraging currencies, metabolism and behavioural routines

Alasdair I Houston, John M McNamara

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

82 Citations (Scopus)


A fundamental issue in foraging theory is whether it is possible to find a simple currency that characterizes foraging behaviour. If such a currency exists, then it is tempting to argue that the selective forces that have shaped the evolution of foraging behaviour have been understood. We review previous work on currencies for the foraging behaviour of an animal that maximizes total energy gained. In many circumstances, it is optimal to maximize a suitably modified form of efficiency. We show how energy gain, predation and damage can be combined in a single currency based on reproductive value. We draw attention to the idea that hard work may have an adverse effect on an animal's condition. We develop a model of optimal foraging over a day when a forager's state consists of its energy reserves and its condition. Optimal foraging behaviour in our model depends on energy reserves, condition and time of day. The pattern of optimal behaviour depends strongly on assumptions about the probability that the forager is killed by a predator. If condition is important, no simple currency characterizes foraging behaviour, but behaviour can be understood in terms of the maximization of reproductive value. It may be optimal to adopt a foraging option that results in a rate of energy expenditure that is less than the rate associated with maximizing efficiency.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jun 2013

Bibliographical note

© 2013 The Authors. Journal of Animal Ecology © 2013 British Ecological Society.


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