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Optimal use of resources: classic foraging theory, satisficing and smart foraging – modelling foraging behaviors of elk Open Access


Other title
functional response curve
Cervus elaphus
smart foraging
foraging strategy
optimal use of resources
the perfect forager theorem
foragers’ hub
computer simulation model
optimal foraging
the marginal value theorem
patch residence time
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Weclaw, Piotr
Supervisor and department
Hudson, Robert (Renewable Resources)
Examining committee member and department
Nielsen, Scott (Renewable Resources)
Foote, A. Lee (Renewable Resources)
Gillingham, Michael (Natural Resources and Environmental Studies Institute, University of Northern British Columbia)
Kershaw, G. P. (Earth and Atmospheric Sciences)
Chanasyk, David (Renewable Resources)
Department of Renewable Resources

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
It is generally accepted that the Marginal Value Theorem (MVT) describes optimal foraging strategies. Some research findings, however, indicate that in natural conditions foragers not always behave according to the MVT. To address this inconsistency, in a series of computer simulations, I examined the behaviour of four types of foragers having specific foraging efficiencies and using the MVT and alternative strategies in 16 simulated landscapes in an ideal environment (no intra- and inter-species interactions). I used data on elk (Cervus elaphus) to construct the virtual forager. Contrary to the widely accepted understanding of the MVT, I found that in environments with the same average patch quality and varying average travel times between patches, patch residence times of some foragers were not affected by travel times. I propose a mechanism responsible for this observation and formulate the perfect forager theorem (PFT). I also introduce the concepts of a foraging coefficient (F) and foragers’ hub (α), and formulate a model to describe the relationship between the perfect forager and other forager types. I identify situations where a forager aiming to choose an optimal foraging strategy and maximize its cumulative consumption should not follow the MVT. I describe these situations in a form of a mathematical model. I also demonstrate that the lack of biological realism and environmental noise are not required to explain the deviations from the MVT observed in field research, and explain the importance of scale in optimal foraging behaviour. I also demonstrate that smart foraging, which is a set of rules based on key ecological concepts: the functional response curve (FRC), satisficing, the MVT, and incorporates time limitations, should allow for fitness maximization. Thus, it should be an optimal behavior in the context of natural selection. I also demonstrate the importance of the FRC as a driver for foraging behaviors and argue that animals should focus more on increasing the slope of their FRC than on choosing a specific foraging strategy. Natural selection should, therefore, favor foragers with steep FRC. My findings introduce new concepts in behavioural ecology, have implications for animal ecology and inform wildlife management.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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