Foraging mode switching: the importance of prey distribution and foraging currency

Andrew D. Higginson, Graeme D. Ruxton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Citations (Scopus)
5 Downloads (Pure)


Foraging methods are highly variable, but can be grouped into two modes: searching and ambush. While research has focused on the functioning of each mode, the question of how animals choose which to use has been largely neglected. Here we consider a forager that exploits prey that are patchily distributed in space and time. This forager can either sit and wait for prey to appear or search for prey, which is more likely to result in encounters with prey but costs more energy and/or exposes the forager to greater predation risk. The currency that natural selection appears to have optimized will be determined by the additional costs of searching and whether there is a risk of starvation. We therefore compare the predictions of models based on currencies that consider only energy and predation risk to state-dependent models in which energy reserves are used to trade off predation rate, starvation rate and investment in growth. The choice of currency qualitatively affects how mode should change when prey abundance and prey patchiness increase. We show how differing prey distributions can explain variation in effects of experimentally increasing prey abundance. Our work has several implications for the study of foraging mode, population dynamics and the methods used to assess population size.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)121-137
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Early online date16 May 2015
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2015


  • Sit-and-wait
  • Deep sea fish
  • Ectotherms
  • Marginal value theorem
  • Optimal foraging
  • Patch use
  • Prey distribution
  • Resource heterogeneity
  • Search strategy


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