Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 12, Issue 3, pp 309-330

First online:

Scale-dependent foraging and patch choice in fractal environments

  • Mark E. RitchieAffiliated withDepartment of Fisheries and Wildlife and Ecology Center, Utah State University

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Many spatially complex environments are fractal, and consumers in these environments face scale-dependent trade-offs between encountering high densities of small resource patches versus low densities of large resource patches. I address the effects of these trade-offs on foraging by incorporating scale-dependent encounter of resources in fractal landscapes into classical optimal foraging theory. This model is then used to predict optimal scales of perception (foraging scale) and patch choice in response to spatial features of landscapes. The model predicts that, for a given density of resources, landscapes with greater extent and fractal dimension and that contain patchy (low fractal dimension) resources favour large foraging scales and specialization on a small proportion of resource patches. Fragmented (low fractal dimension) landscapes of small extent with dispersed (high fractal dimension) resources favour smaller foraging scales and generalists that use a large proportion of available resource patches. These predictions synthesize the results of other spatially explicit consumer–resource models into a simple framework and agree reasonably well with results of several empirical studies. This study thus places optimal foraging theory in a spatial context and suggests evolutionary mechanisms of consumers' responses to important spatial phenomena (e.g. habitat fragmentation, resource aggregation).

foraging fractal geometry landscape resources scale