, Volume 70, Issue 1, pp 35–52 | Cite as

Optimal foraging and community structure: implications for a guild of generalist grassland herbivores

  • G. E. Belovsky
Original Papers


A particular linear programming model is constructed to predict the diets of each of 14 species of generalist herbivores at the National Bison Range, Montana. The herbivores have body masses ranging over seven orders of magnitude and belonging to two major taxa: insects and mammals. The linear programming model has three feeding constraints: digestive capacity, feeding time and energy requirements. A foraging strategy that maximizes daily energy intake agrees very well with the observed diets. Body size appears to be an underlying determinant of the foraging parameters leading to diet selection. Species that possess digestive capacity and feeding time constraints which approach each other in magnitude have the most generalized diets. The degree that the linear programming models change their diet predictions with a given percent change in parameter values (sensitivity) may reflect the observed ability of the species to vary their diets. In particular, the species which show the most diet variability are those whose diets tend to be balanced between monocots and dicots. The community-ecological parameters of herbivore body-size ranges and species number can possibly be related to foraging behavior.

Key words

Optimal foraging Herbivory Grass lands Body size Competition 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • G. E. Belovsky
    • 1
  1. 1.The University of Michigan School of Natural ResourcesAnn ArborUSA

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