Foraging is the set of processes by which organisms acquire energy and nutrients, whether the food is directly consumed (feeding), stored for later consumption (hoarding), or given to other individuals (provisioning). Foraging behavior plays an important role in evolutionary biology, not only because it is a major determinant of the survival, growth, and reproductive success of foragers but also because of its impact on predator avoidance, pollination, and dispersal adaptations of potential food organisms. From a contemporary perspective, it is surprising how generally the fundamental role of behavior was neglected in early-20th-century studies of evolution and ecology. Following the development of quantitative techniques and field-oriented approaches by European ethologists, however, interest in foraging, along with other aspects of behavior grew rapidly. Most of this research has sought to describe, explain, and predict foraging behavior quantitatively. The development of an a priori predictive approach using optimality theory, in particular, has revealed a richness and complexity in the patterns of foraging that could not have been imagined only a few decades ago. My goal in this chapter is to provide a brief overview of the main issues in foraging behavior and the logical basis of current approaches. I wish to highlight the successes and potential value of these approaches, while recognizing the gaps and challenges for future research. Contemporary studies of foraging by evolutionary ecologists are based on the synthesis of two research traditions, both emerging during the 1960s. The ethological approach to behavior is illustrated by the research of K. von Frisch and his associates on honeybee foraging and N. Tinbergen and his group on searching behavior of birds. The ethologists’ recognition of behavior as an evolved phenotype, their emphasis on its ecological context, and their careful quantitative and experimental fieldwork set the stage for behavioral ecology (Curio 1976). They classified the behavioral components of foraging, an important contribution to much of the ecological work that followed, and identified a number of widespread characteristics such as localized search following the discovery of a prey (“area-restricted search”) and enhanced detection following experience of a particular prey type (“search image”). The theoretical approach to population ecology was foreshadowed by the Russian V. S. Ivlev.
Keywords: Alice effect, Central place foragers, Decision rules, Economic approach, Functional response, Game theory, Ideal free distribution, Kleptoparasitism, Loading functions, Marginal value theorem
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