Original Article

Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 61, Issue 1, pp 151-161

First online:

Paying for information: partial loads in central place foragers

  • A. DornhausAffiliated withEcology and Evolutionary Biology, University of ArizonaSchool of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol Email author 
  • , E. J. CollinsAffiliated withDepartment of Mathematics, University of Bristol
  • , F.-X. Dechaume-MoncharmontAffiliated withSchool of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol
  • , A. I. HoustonAffiliated withSchool of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol
  • , N. R. FranksAffiliated withSchool of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol
  • , J. M. McNamaraAffiliated withDepartment of Mathematics, University of Bristol

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Information about food sources can be crucial to the success of a foraging animal. We predict that this will influence foraging decisions by group-living foragers, which may sacrifice short-term foraging efficiency to collect information more frequently. This result emerges from a model of a central-place forager that can potentially receive information on newly available superior food sources at the central place. Such foragers are expected to return early from food sources, even with just partial loads, if information about the presence of sufficiently valuable food sources is likely to become available. Returning with an incomplete load implies that the forager is at that point not achieving the maximum possible food delivery rate. However, such partial loading can be more than compensated for by an earlier exploitation of a superior food source. Our model does not assume cooperative foraging and could thus be used to investigate this effect for any social central-place forager. We illustrate the approach using numerical calculations for honeybees and leafcutter ants, which do forage cooperatively. For these examples, however, our results indicate that reducing load confers minimal benefits in terms of receiving information. Moreover, the hypothesis that foragers reduce load to give information more quickly (rather than to receive it) fits empirical data from social insects better. Thus, we can conclude that in these two cases of social-insect foraging, efficient distribution of information by successful foragers may be more important than efficient collection of information by unsuccessful ones.


Central place foraging Information center Recruitment Partial loads Honeybees Apis mellifera