Week 11. Optimal Foraging Theory

November 2th:

Sinervo chapter 6
Catania & Remple (2005) Nature 433:519

November 2th:

Understanding the rules that shape the foraging behavior of animals is the goal of the theoretical field of evolutionary biology known by the initials OFT, for "optimal foraging theory".  Many of the terms, models, and theories employed in this area of behavioral research borrow from (or contribute to) other fields such as economics.  The popularity of this type of research has fluctuated for the past 40 years. The applicability of these terms, models and theories to animal behavior is still debated.

Pierce & Olalson (1987) Eight Reasons Why optimal Foraging Theory is a Complete Waste of Time. Oikos 49:111-118.
Stearns & Schmid-Hempl (1987) Evolutionary Insights Should Not Be Wasted Oikos 49:118-125.
STUDENT DISCUSSION QUESTIONS! these will be handed out in class the week before.

Consider all 4 of the following questions. Try to identify specific comment/responses between the two papers.  For two of the following 4 questions, prepare your thoughts for discussion, bring these prepared, typed comments to class.

1) In your opinion, which paper contributes to scientific progress? Defend your opinion with examples (quotes or summarized points) from each paper.

2) In his text, Sinervo states that "The assumption of 'adaptation' is central to OFT. The principle of adaptation maintains that the process of natural selection has shaped the behaviors we observe in animals".  Piece and Ollason repeatedly disagree with these assumptions. Even Stearns and Schmid-Hemple acquiesce that "optimal strategies may not occur in nature".  How then can they defend the field of optimal foraging theory? Identify 2-3 concrete objections to "optimality" and rebuttals to these objections that support the continued study of OFT..

3) What is a model? How should models be used in science? Should they be used to study foraging behavior?

4) Identify 3 points on which Stearns and Schmid-Hemple actually agree with Piece and Ollason.

And for Fun:
This is an example of a very simple project, with a defined hypothesis and accurate data collection
Cristol, D.A., Switzer, P.V., Johnson, K.L., and Walke, L.S. (1997) Crows Do Not Use Automobiles as Nutcrackers: Putting an Anecdote to the Test. Auk 114:196-198.
With the time that remains we will watch some of David Attenborough's "Trials of Life: Finding Food".