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The "Feed:Feed" Decision: How Goldfish Solve the Patch Depletion Problem

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The "feed:feed" decision concerns the problem of how an animal chooses between various feeding activities. Optimal foraging theory fails to account for this decision-making process because it does not describe how animals obtain information about their feeding opportunities. The model discussed in this paper describes how this information is obtained and how it influences the "feed: feed" decision. The model is first described in a simplified form, the dynamic matching rule. This rule states that the animal allocates time to each patch in proportion to the number of rewards it recently obtained from each. In the case where food is available in different patches, it predicts a gradual development of preference for the better patch. Results from published studies where patch profitabilities remained constant are shown to support this prediction. The model is tested by examining how goldfish distribute their time between two patches, when these patches are depleted as a consequence of foraging. The model predicts that goldfish will first develop a preference for the initially higher density patch, but that a reversal in this development will occur once they deplete this patch below the other patch. The results are shown to support this model. Limitations of this simple model are subsequently discussed. It is shown to be a simplified version of HARLEY'S (1981) "relative payoff sum" rule. HARLEY'S model identifies two factors which interact in determining behaviour. One is an excitatory effect that results from feeding; the other describes what the animal has learned from previous experience. (The dynamic matching rule did not consider the latter effect). Predictions made by this model are also supported by the goldfish results. The functional implications of HARLEY'S model are discussed. It is shown that this model predicts equilibrium behaviour which closely approximates the optimal response. Thus, it describes how behavioural mechanisms are structured so that animals will forage efficiently. Finally, it is argued that this model, in its present state, describes the structure of a motivational control system. Learning processes appear as parameters in the model, the determinants of which remain to be identified.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, Canada, Ethology and Neurophysiology Group, School of Biology, University of Sussex, England


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