, Volume 11, Issue 6, pp 641-672

Optimal foraging and community structure: The allometry of herbivore food selection and competition

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Abstract

I address the selection of plants with different characteristics by herbivores of different body sizes by incorporating allometric relationships for herbivore foraging into optimal foraging models developed for herbivores. Herbivores may use two criteria in maximizing their nutritional intake when confronted with a range of food resources: a minimum digestibility and a minimum cropping rate. Minimum digestibility should depend on plant chemical characteristics and minimum cropping rate should depend on the density of plant items and their size (mass). If herbivores do select for these plant characteristics, then herbivores of different body sizes should select different ranges of these characteristics due to allometric relationships in digestive physiology, cropping ability and nutritional demands. This selectivity follows a regular pattern such that a herbivore of each body size can exclusively utilize some plants, while it must share other plants with herbivores of other body sizes. I empirically test this hypothesis of herbivore diet selectivity and the pattern of resource use that it produces in the field and experimentally. The findings have important implications for competition among herbivores and their population and community ecology. Furthermore, the results may have general applicability to other types of foragers, with general implications for how biodiversity is influenced.