Further development of the Spalinger-Hobbs mechanistic foraging model for free-ranging moose

John Pastor, Katie Standke, Keith Farnsworth, Ron Moen, Yosef Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Spalinger and Hobbs proposed a mechanistic model of forage intake based on the mutually exclusive actions of biting and chewing. A necessary consequence of this model is that an animal postpones the intake of more food by biting when it is processing food by chewing. In previous work, the Spalinger-Hobbs model successfully predicted short-term intake in controlled experiments. Application of the model to an entire foraging bout requires the following assumptions: (i) biting and chewing are independent events; (ii) there are no periodicities in the length of consecutive bite or chew sequences; (iii) the average bite size is constant; and (iv) the bite rate does not change with the number of bites in the sequence. To test these assumptions, we videotaped entire foraging bouts of two free-ranging moose (Alces alces) feeding on dense swards of Epilobium angustifolium in midsummer. From these videotapes, we measured the time spent biting and chewing, the rates of biting and chewing, the frequency distributions of consecutive bite and chew sequences, and lengths of E. angustifolium shoots above the point of cropping. Plant samples were collected in order to determine bite mass. A total of 1050 bites and chews were analyzed for moose 1 and 1925 bites and chews for moose 2. For both moose, three chewing events occurred, on average, for each bite event. Given this 1:3 bite:chew ratio, the frequency distributions of consecutive bite and chew sequences were as expected from a geometric distribution of independent events. There were no time-series correlations or dominating frequencies in the lengths of bite and chew sequences. These findings fulfill the first three assumptions required to extend the Spalinger-Hobbs model to entire foraging bouts. However, the fourth assumption was not fulfilled, in that time spent per bite increased asymptotically with bite-sequence length. We therefore incorporated the effect of bite, sequence length on bite rate into the Spalinger-Hobbs model. The new model predicts that to simultaneously maximize the marginal intake rate with respect to both bite rate and bite mass, a moose should take single bites most often and bite mass should be approximately 3.6 g. Eighty-two percent of bite sequences were composed of single bites for both moose, and we and others independently observed a bite size of 3.24-3.75 g for free-ranging moose. These observations lend credibility to our modified model.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1505-1512
Number of pages8
JournalCanadian Journal of Zoology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Jan 1 1999


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