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Sensory perception plays a larger role in foraging efficiency than heavy-tailed movement strategies

LaScala-Gruenewald, Diana E., Mehta, Rohan S., Liu, Yu, Denny, Mark W.
Ecological modelling 2019
animals, foraging, mathematical models, sensation
Animals must balance their rates of energetic intake and expenditure while foraging. Several mathematical models have been put forward as energetically optimal foraging strategies when the food environment is sparse (i.e., the distance between food patches in the environment is much larger than the distance from which the forager can perceive food). In particular, Lévy walks with a power law exponent approaching 1 are considered optimal for destructive foragers. However, these models have yet to explore the role of sensory perception in foraging success as the distance between food patches approaches the distance from which the forager can perceive food. Here, we used an agent-based modeling approach to address this question. Our results concur that lower values of the power law exponent (i.e. values approaching 1) result in the most food found, but in contrast to previous studies, we note that, in many cases, lower exponents are not optimal when we consider food found per unit distance traveled. For example, higher values of the exponent resulted in comparable or higher foraging success relative to lower values when the forager's range of sensory perception was restricted to an angle ± 30° from its current heading. In addition, we find that sensory perception has a larger effect on foraging success than the power law exponent. These results suggest that a deeper examination of how animals perceive food sources from a distance may affect longstanding assumptions regarding the optimality of Lévy walk foraging patterns, and lend support to the developing theoretical shift towards models that place increasing emphasis on how organisms interact with their environments.