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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Foraging theory is a branch of behavioral ecology that studies the foraging behavior of animals in response to the environment in which the animal lives. Foraging theory considers the foraging behavior of animals in reference to the payoff that an animal obtains from different foraging options. Foraging theory predicts that the foraging options that deliver the highest payoff should be favored by foraging animals because it will have the highest fitness payoff.

Robert MacArthur, J M Emlen, and Eric Pianka, first proposed an optimal foraging theory in an independent paper in 1966. This theory argued that because of the key importance of successful foraging to an individual's survival, it should be possible to predict foraging behavior by using decision theory to determine the behavior that would be shown by an "optimal forager" - one with perfect knowledge of what to do to maximize usable food intake. While the behavior of real animals inevitably departs from that of the optimal forager, optimal foraging theory has proved very useful in developing hypotheses for describing real foraging behavior. Departures from optimality often help to identify constraints either in the animal's behavioral or cognitive repertoire, or in the environment, that had not previously been suspected. With those constraints identified, foraging behavior often does approach the optimal pattern even if it is not identical to it.

There are many versions of optimal foraging theory that are relevant to different foraging situation. These include:

  • The optimal diet model, which describes the behavior of a forager that encounters different types of prey and must choose which to attack
  • Patch selection theory, which describes the behavior of a forager whose prey is concentrated in small areas with a significant travel time between them
  • Central place foraging theory, which describes the behavior of a forager that must return to a particular place in order to consume its food, or perhaps to hoard it or feed it to a mate or offspring.

In recent decades, optimal foraging theory has frequently been applied to the foraging behaviour of human hunter-gatherers. Although this is controversial, coming under some of the same kinds of attack as the application of socio biological theory to human behaviour, it does represent a convergence of ideas from human ecology and economic anthropology that has proved fruitful and interesting.

Important contributions to foraging theory have been made by:

See also


  • Emlen, J. M. (1966). The role of time and energy in food preference. American Naturalist, 100, 611-617.
  • MacArthur, R. H. and Pianka, E. R. (1966). On the optimal use of a patchy environment. American Naturalist, 100, 603-609.
  • Stephens, D. W., & Krebs, J. R. (1986). Foraging theory. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Stephens, D. W., Brown, J. S., & Ydenberg, R .C. (2007) Foraging: Behavior and Ecology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • L.-A. Giraldeau and T. Caraco, Social Foraging Theory (2000). Princeton University Press, May 2000.

External links

  • African Pygmies food gathering. Foraging in the rainforest
  • Institute for the Study of Edible Wild Plants and Other Foragables. [1]
  • The Big Green Idea Wild Foraging Factsheet
  • Sosis, Richard. (2000), The emergence and stability of cooperative fishing on Ifaluk Atoll, for Human Behavior and Adaptation: an Anthropological Perspective, edited by L. Cronk, N. Chagnon, and B. Iro ns, pp. 437-472. Article

Simple English

Foraging is the act of hunting or gathering food. For example, cattle forage grass to eat. The idea of animals foraging is called forage theory, and was first proposed in an independent paper in 1966.

Humans that forage are often called hunter-gatherers, who find and eat (wild) animals and plants without domestication of them (people who farm plants are not hunter-gatherers, as they have grown them themselves).


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