, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp 203-209

Imperfectly optimal animals

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We consider models of behavior that apply to two different problems: when a predator should leave a foraging site and how a female should choose the best available male. In each case we derive rules for an optimal solution to the problem. We also derive models based on very simple, plausible rules of behavior that we suspect animals may actually use. Although the expected payoffs from optimality models always exceed the expected payoffs from our simpler behavioral models, under certain conditions the difference is not large. When good foraging sites last but a short time and when females' mobility in their habitat is limited, the results of simple models and optimal models are very close indeed.

Because of the difficulty of distinguishing between the results of each type of model and because natural selection will presumably provide a best mix of solutions to a range of problems rather than a best solution to any one problem, we suggest that behavioral ecologists expend more effort on simple, plausible models of animal behavior. Such models provide ready-made testable hypotheses about the animal's approximation to optimality and about the actual mechanisms of behavior.