How do grazers achieve their distribution? A continuum of models from random diffusion to the ideal free distribution using biased random walks

K D Farnsworth, J A Beecham

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69 Citations (Scopus)


A conceptual model is described for generating distributions of grazing animals, according to their searching behavior, to investigate the mechanisms animals may use to achieve their distributions. The model simulates behaviors ranging from random diffusion, through taxis and cognitively aided navigation (i.e., using memory), to the optimization extreme of the Ideal Free Distribution. These behaviors are generated from simulation of biased diffusion that operates at multiple scales simultaneously, formalizing ideas of multiple-scale foraging behavior. It uses probabilistic bias to represent decisions, allowing multiple search goals to be combined (e.g., foraging and social goals) and the representation of suboptimal behavior. By allowing bias to arise at multiple scales within the environment, each weighted relative to the others, the model can represent different scales of simultaneous decision-making and scale-dependent behavior. The model also allows different constraints to be applied to the animal's ability (e.g., applying food-patch accessibility and information limits). Simulations show that foraging-decision randomness and spatial scale of decision bias have potentially profound effects on both animal intake rate and the distribution of resources in the environment. Spatial variograms show that foraging strategies can differentially change the spatial pattern of resource abundance in the environment to one characteristic of the foraging strategy.</
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)509-526
Number of pages18
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology

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