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Foraging Decisions in Risk-Uniform Landscapes

Authors
Journal
PLoS ONE
1932-6203
Publisher
Public Library of Science
Publication Date
Volume
3
Issue
10
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0003438
Keywords
  • Research Article
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Evolutionary Biology/Animal Behavior
  • Evolutionary Biology/Evolutionary Ecology
Disciplines
  • Biology
  • Economics
  • Psychology

Abstract

Behaviour is shaped by evolution as to maximise fitness by balancing gains and risks. Models on decision making in biology, psychology or economy have investigated choices among options which differ in gain and/or risk. Meanwhile, there are decision contexts with uniform risk distributions where options are not differing in risk while the overall risk level may be high. Adequate predictions for the emerging investment patterns in risk uniformity are missing. Here we use foraging behaviour as a model for decision making. While foraging, animals often titrate food and safety from predation and prefer safer foraging options over riskier ones. Risk uniformity can occur when habitat structures are uniform, when predators are omnipresent or when predators are ideal-free distributed in relation to prey availability. However, models and empirical investigations on optimal foraging have mainly investigated choices among options with different predation risks. Based on the existing models on local decision making in risk-heterogeneity we test predictions extrapolated to a landscape level with uniform risk distribution. We compare among landscapes with different risk levels. If the uniform risk is low, local decisions on the marginal value of an option should lead to an equal distribution of foraging effort. If the uniform risk is high, foraging should be concentrated on few options, due to a landscape-wide reduction of the value of missed opportunity costs of activities other than foraging. We provide experimental support for these predictions using foraging small mammals in artificial, risk uniform landscapes. In high risk uniform landscapes animals invested their foraging time in fewer options and accepted lower total returns, compared to their behaviour in low risk-uniform landscapes. The observed trade off between gain and risk, demonstrated here for food reduction and safety increase, may possibly apply also to other contexts of economic decision making.

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