, Volume 61, Issue 1, pp 65-80
Date: 29 Aug 2006

Resource distributions and diet development by trial-and-error learning

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Abstract

We study interactions between resource distributions, grouping, and diet development in foragers who learn by trial-and-error. We do this by constructing an individual-based model where individuals move and forage in groups in a 2-D space with high resource diversity and learn what to eat. By comparing diet development in different resource distributions, and in gregarious and solitary individuals, we elucidate how these factors affect patterns of diet variation. Our results indicate that different resource distributions have profound effects on learning opportunities, and thereby lead to contrasting phenomena. In uniform environments, local resource depletion by gregarious individuals, in interaction with learning, leads to diet differentiation. In patchy environments, grouping leads to enhanced diet overlap within groups and leads to differences in diet between groups. Surprisingly, mixed environments can generate all these phenomena simultaneously. Our results predict relationships between diet variation, trial-and-error learning, and resource distributions. The phenomena we describe are not evolved strategies, but arise spontaneously when groups of individuals learn to forage in certain resource distributions. This suggests that describing diet specialization or diet homogenization as the result of behavioral strategies may not always be justified.

Communicated by S. Alberts