Optimal diet choice for large herbivores: an extended contingency model

K D Farnsworth, A W Illius

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46 Citations (Scopus)


1. A more general contingency model of optimal diet choice is developed, allowing for simultaneous searching and handling, which extends the theory to include grazing and browsing by large herbivores.</p><p>2. Foraging resolves into three modes: purely encounter-limited, purely handling-limited and mixed-process, in which either a handling-limited prey type is added to an encounter-limited diet, or the diet becomes handling-limited as it expands.</p><p>3. The purely encounter-limited diet is, in general, broader than that predicted by the conventional contingency model,</p><p>4. As the degree of simultaneity of searching and handling increases, the optimal diet expands to the point where it is handling-limited, at which point all inferior prey types are rejected,</p><p>5. Inclusion of a less profitable prey species is not necessarily independent of its encounter rate and the zero-one rule does not necessarily hold: some of the less profitable prey may be included in the optimal diet. This gives an optimal foraging explanation for herbivores' mixed diets.</p><p>6. Rules are shown for calculating the boundary between encounter-limited and handling-limited diets and for predicting the proportion of inferior prey to be included in a two-species diet,</p><p>7. The digestive rate model is modified to include simultaneous searching and handling, showing that the more they overlap, the more the predicted diet-breadth is likely to be reduced.</p>
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)74-81
Number of pages8
JournalFunctional Ecology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology

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