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Agent-based model approach to optimal foraging in heterogeneous landscapes: effects of patch clumpiness

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Optimal foraging theory concerns animal behavior in landscapes where food is concentrated in patches. The efficiency of foraging is an effect of both the animal behavior and the geometry of the landscape; furthermore, the landscape is itself affected by the foraging of animals. We investigated the effect of landscape heterogeneity on the efficiency of an optimal forager. The particular aspect of heterogeneity we considered was “clumpiness”– the degree to which food resource patches are clustered together. The starting point for our study was the framework of the Mean Value Theorem (MVT) by Charnov. Since MVT is not spatially explicit, and thus not apt to investigate effects of clumpiness, we built an agent-based (or individual-based) model for animal movement in discrete landscapes extending the MVT. We also constructed a model for generating landscapes where the clumpiness of patches can be easily controlled, or “tuned”, by an input parameter. We evaluated the agent based model by comparing the results with what the MTV would give, i.e. if the spatial effects were removed. The MVT matched the simulations best on landscapes with random patch configuration and high food recovery rates. As for our main question about the effects of clumpiness, we found that, when landscapes were highly productive (rapid food replenishment), foraging efficiency was greatest in clumped landscapes. In less productive landscapes, however, foraging efficiency was lowest in landscapes with a clumped patch distribution.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2007

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