What elk, wolves and caterpillars have in common—The perfect forager theorem


It is widely accepted that the Marginal Value Theorem (MVT) describes optimal foraging strategies of animals and the mechanism proposed by the MVT has been supported by a number of field observations. However, findings of many researchers indicate that in natural conditions foragers do not always behave according to the MVT. To address this inconsistency, in a series of computer simulation experiments, we examined the behaviour of four types of foragers having specific foraging efficiencies and using the MVT strategies in 15 different landscapes in an ideal environment (no intra-and inter-specific interactions). We used data on elk (Cervus elaphus) to construct our virtual forager. Contrary to the widely accepted understanding of the MVT (residence time in a patch should be longer in environments where travel time between patches is longer) we found that in environments with the same average patch quality and varying average travel times between patches, patch residence times of some foragers are not affected by travel times. Based on our analysis we propose a mechanism responsible for this observation and formulate the perfect forager theorem (PFT). We also introduce the concepts of a foraging coefficient (F) and foragers’ hub (α), and propose a model to describe the relationship between the perfect forager and all other forager types.

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Weclaw, P. and Hudson, R. (2013) What elk, wolves and caterpillars have in common—The perfect forager theorem. Open Journal of Ecology, 3, 133-144. doi: 10.4236/oje.2013.32016.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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