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Optimal Foraging in Peromyscus Polionotus: the Influence of Item-Size and Predation Risk

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Predictions of optimal foraging theory were tested for Peromyscus polionotus in the laboratory and in two field experiments in which seed item-size was manipulated. In the laboratory, handling times for millet, sunflower seeds, and peanuts were determined. Additionally, energy/handling (E/h) time values were calculated and seed preference experiments were conducted. Mice showed a clear preference for the seeds more profitable in terms of E/h. Seed preference experiments were also conducted in the field to determine the relative influence of optimal foraging and predation risk in diet choice. In the first of the two field experiments, behavioral strategies to reduce predation vulnerability could not influence differential seed selection. As predicted, the mice again showed a preference for the more profitable seed type. In the second experiment, animals were presented with conflicting demands because foraging on a more abundant, but less preferred, seed type afforded the animal an increased ability to avoid predators. Presented with this opportunity to reduce the risk of predation, the animals shifted their preference to the safer, but less profitable food. This shift in seed preference was accompanied by predation-risk-reducing changes in spatial foraging patterns.

Affiliations: 1: (Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA


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