Food Preference as a Function of Resource Abundance with Multiple Prey Types: An Experimental Analysis of Optimal Foraging Theory Academic Article uri icon


  • Examined the response of a small population of folivores (Kerodon rupestris: Caviidae) to changes in the absolute abundance of 10 different species of leaves. When absolute abundances were tripled (relative abundances were held constant) the folivore population significantly altered its proportional consumption of food types. In general, preferred foods were consumed in greater relative proportions when abundance was increased and the relative utilization of less preferred foods declined. Otherwise, results were problematic in relation to the predictions of the energy maximization model of optimal foraging theory. Not all foods of low rank decreased in consumption when the abundance of high-ranked foods was increased. The partial consumption of low-ranked foods is contrary to the tenets of energy maximization. Also, preferences did not remain consistent from phase to phase; ranks shifted considerably, especially with respect to high-ranked foods. Folivores may represent an example of the special case of optimal foraging with nutrient constraints, the partial consumption of low-ranked foods would then be expected. Also, the encounter rate for a given item or type is probably not constant in time or space; the rate of encounter is affected by an animal's degree of satiation, and dependent upon its degree of familiarity with the distribution of food items within its foraging area. This suggests that animals are optimal foragers only in the short term. The probability of accepting an item when it is encountered will be either zero or one in the short term, but in the long term it will assume an average value between zero and one. Finally, consumers should evolve search images for types or species, when within-type variability is very small and overlap among types minimal. When within-type variability is large, and distributions of food value overlap a great deal, natural selection should favor consumers that select high value items and do not generalize on a type's average values. Feeding habits may thus influence the way a consumer optimizes its foraging behavior. -from Authors

author list (cited authors)

  • Lacher,, T. E., Willig, M. R., & Mares, M. A.

citation count

  • 44

publication date

  • September 1982