Better understanding of food gathering behaviour from appreciating that collecting food involves a greater risk of being killed than travelling


Foraging behaviour is typically understood by assuming that animals have evolved to try to maximize their net rate of gain of food (e.g. calories per minute gathered minus the calories used in effort) or their efficiency (the profit of calories per calorie spent in effort). It is common to test these assumptions with social insects such as bees, because they are not trying to reproduce so their behaviour should fit the predictions better than other animals. However, predictions aren’t always supported.


In our model, we instead assumed that animals should act to maximize the amount of calories they gather in their lifetime, which means the risk of predation should influence them. We focus on the case where bees go to a patch of food and deliver it to a central place (e.g. the colony). The risk of predation is likely to be higher when foraging than when travelling to and from the patch. We show that the extent to which this is true depends on whether behaviour will look more like the animal is maximizing net rate or efficiency. We highlight various strands of evidence supporting the idea that predation risk has shaped the evolution of foraging behaviour.


Our work explains why some studies have suggested animals maximize net rate and other studies that they maximize efficiency: it depends on how risky foraging is. It also explains why bees sometimes return to their colony before they have filled their stomach: the stomach contents are too valuable to risk. Our understanding of pollination systems, which are so crucial to agriculture and conservation, will benefit from appreciating the influence of predators such as crab spiders.


Behavioural ecology

Subject Group

Zoology and Ecology



optimal foraging



central place

Posted by


on Fri Oct 27 2017

Article ID


Details of original research article:

Higginson AD, Houston AI. The influence of the food-predation trade-off on the foraging behaviour of central-place foragers. Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology. 2015;69:551-561.

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keywords: Predation

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