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Recent advances in our understanding of risk-sensitive foraging preferences

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Melissa BatesonORCiD


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Many experiments have shown that foraging animals are sensitive to the riskiness, or variance, associated with alternative food sources. For example, when offered a choice of a constant feeding option that always offers three seeds, and a risky option that offers either no seeds or six seeds with equal probability, most animals tested will be either risk-averse or risk-prone, preferring either the fixed or variable option respectively. Whether animals are risk-averse or risk-prone appears to depend on a range of factors, including the energetic status of the forager, the type of variance associated with the feeding options and even the number of feeding options between which the animal is choosing. These behavioural phenomena have attracted much theoretical interest, and a range of different explanations have been suggested, some based on a consideration of the psychological mechanisms involved in decision making, and others on a consideration of the Darwinian fitness consequences of risk-averse or risk-prone behaviour for the forager. A brief review of the recent literature on risk-sensitive foraging will be presented, focusing on results from the two experimental systems with which I have been involved: wild rufous hummingbirds (Selasphorus rufus) foraging on artificial flowers; European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) foraging in operant boxes in the laboratory. It will be argued that to understand the foraging decisions of animals account needs to be taken of both the psychological mechanisms underlying decision-making and the fitness consequences of different decisions for the forager.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Bateson M

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Proceedings of the Nutrition Society

Year: 2002

Volume: 61

Issue: 4

Pages: 509-516

ISSN (print): 0029-6651

ISSN (electronic): 1475-2719

Publisher: Cambridge University Press


DOI: 10.1079/PNS2002181

PubMed id: 12691180


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