Optimal foraging theory

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

3 Scopus citations


Foraging is a basic feature of behavior that touches virtually all aspects of animal biology. Foraging theory, sometimes called optimal foraging theory, began as an attempt to derive general principles about foraging behavior from an adaptationist perspective. Early models using the premise of long-term rate-maximization focused on two main questions: prey choice and patch exploitation. Although, these approaches are no longer the central focus of foraging theory, they serve as important building blocks for contemporary models. Modern foraging studies have expanded from this starting point in several directions. Many researchers now emphasize the neural, psychological, and physiological mechanisms of foraging. In addition, behavioral ecologists have extended foraging models to situations where animals risk predation when they forage. These models typically take a life-history perspective. Social foraging models use game theory to analyze group size and the balance between producing and scrounging within feeding aggregations. Finally, foraging models are beginning to fulfil their promise as tools for ecology and population biology. For example, community ecologists now use measures derived from patch-exploitation theory to assess competitive abilities. As a further example, models of foraging under predation risk suggest that sublethal effects on prey behavior can profoundly influence predator-prey dynamics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationEncyclopedia of Ecology
Number of pages6
ISBN (Electronic)9780444641304
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018


  • Animal groups
  • Diet
  • Foraging
  • Giving-up density
  • Habitat use
  • Modeling
  • Patch
  • Predation
  • Prey
  • Rate-maximization
  • Resource acquisition
  • Tradeoff


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