Uncertainty drives deviations in normative foraging decision strategies Journal Article uri icon



  • ABSTRACTNearly all animals forage, as it is essential to acquire energy for survival through efficient search and resource harvesting. Patch exploitation is a canonical foraging behavior, but a systematic treatment of how animals cope with uncertainty is lacking. To address these shortcomings, we develop a normative theory of patch foraging decisions, proposing mechanisms by which foraging behaviors emerge in the face of uncertainty. Our model foragers statistically and sequentially infer patch resource yields using Bayesian updating based on their resource encounter history. A decision to leave a patch is triggered when the certainty of the patch type or the estimated yield of the patch fall below a threshold. The timescale over which uncertainty in resource availability persists strongly impacts behavioral variables like patch residence times and decision rules determining patch departures. When patch depletion is slow, as in habitat selection, departures are characterized by a reduction of uncertainty, suggesting the forager resides in a low-yielding patch. Uncertainty leads patch-exploiting foragers to overharvest (underharvest) patches with initially low (high) resource yields in comparison to predictions of the marginal value theorem. These results extend optimal foraging theory and motivate a variety of behavioral experiments investigating patch foraging behavior.

publication date

  • April 26, 2021

Date in CU Experts

  • May 1, 2021 6:11 AM

Full Author List

  • Kilpatrick ZP; Davidson JD; Hady AE

author count

  • 3

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