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Caching Behaviour in the Gray Jay and the Source-Departure Decision for Rate-Maximizing Scatterhoarders

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We developed a model that concerns, in part, how long a scatterhoarder should persist in caching food from an ephemeral, locally abundant source ('bonanza') before moving on in search of other sources. The model assumes that an animal scattering food caches for later use behaves in a manner that maximizes the rate at which it stores recoverable (surviving) food in its habitat. It is shown theoretically that under some conditions it is better not to cache all available food but instead to move on in search of other food sources. This 'source-departure decision' for scatterhoarders is analogous to the patch-departure decision for animals that forage among food patches. It is shown that whether, and at what point, a 'moving-on threshold' is reached should depend on the size of the source, the strength of density-dependent cache theft, and the abundance of sources in the habitat. A field experiment was performed to test the qualitative prediction that gray jays, Perisoreus canadensis, should not persist as long in caching food when a day-long opportunity for caching is restricted to a single source (single-source treatment) as when such an opportunity is divided among a series of disjunct sources (multiple-source treatment). In the single-source treatment, jays tended to cache at lower overall rates, transport food items to more distant cache sites, and spend less time caching. These tendencies became more pronounced later in the day. However, although the rate of caching approached zero in the single-source treatment, the jays did not completely cease caching. This apparent violation of the model is attributed to the behaviour of recaching, a facet of gray jay scatterhoarding behaviour that was not built into the model. This retrieval and redistribution of previous caches resulted in the stabilization of the density of caches near the source. In addition, this switch from single- to multiple-load caching trips arguably would make it economical for gray jays to continue to make caching trips from a source beyond the source-departure point predicted by the model. Our theoretical and empirical results begin to show how scatterhoarders may behave in a manner that maximizes the long-term average rate of storage of recoverable food energy throughout their habitat.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Zoology, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210-1293; 2: Department of Biological Science, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL 32306, U.S.A.


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