Optimal foraging theory states that an organism will attempt to maximize its net energy gain by foraging for the most profitable food. Alternatively, organisms may be unable to distinguish between profitability and size, in which case they choose the largest food item regardless of actual profitability. Using free-living fox squirrels, I independently manipulated size and profitability of dough balls to determine the contributions of these two factors to diet choice. The squirrels preferred the most profitable food item, regardless of size. Optimal foraging theory predicts squirrel foraging behavior better than either an encounter rate model or a simple size bias.
Jennifer Holifield, ’99 Bloomington, IL
Sponsor: Andrew McCollum