MEPS 473:91-101 (2013)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps10079

Optimal foraging in marine ecosystem models: selectivity, profitability and switching

André W. Visser1,*, Øyvind Fiksen2,3

1Centre for Ocean Life, National Institute for Aquatic Resources, Technical University of Denmark, Kavalergaard 6,
2920 Charlottenlund, Denmark
2Department of Biology, University of Bergen, 5020 Bergen, Norway
3Uni Research, 5020 Bergen, Norway

ABSTRACT: One of the most troubling aspects of ecosystem models is the use of rather arbitrary feeding and preference functions. The predictions of plankton functional type models have been shown to be highly sensitive to the choice of foraging model, particularly in multiple prey situations. Here we propose ecological mechanics and evolutionary logic as a solution to diet selection in ecosystem models. When a predator can consume a range of prey items, it has to choose which foraging mode to use, which prey to ignore and which ones to pursue, and animals are known to be particularly skilled in adapting their diets towards the most profitable prey items. We present a simple algorithm for plankton feeding on a size-spectrum of prey with particular energetic content, handling times and capture probabilities. We show that the optimal diet breadth changes with relative densities, but in a different way to the preference functions commonly used in models today. Indeed, depending on prey class resolution, optimal foraging can yield feeding rates that are considerably different from the ‘switching functions’ often applied in marine ecosystem models. Dietary inclusion is dictated by 2 optimality choices: (1) the diet breadth and (2) the actual feeding mode. The optimality model does not generate ‘safety in low densities’ for prey, as the ‘switching function’ does in ecosystem models, unless predators are shifting feeding mode adaptively. The actual diet, feeding rate and energy flux in ecosystem models can be determined by letting predators maximise energy intake or more properly, some measure of fitness where predation risk and cost are also included. An optimal foraging or fitness-maximising approach will give marine ecosystem models a sound principle to determine trophic interactions.


KEY WORDS: Grazing · Diet composition · Feeding mode · Fitness · Size selection


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Cite this article as: Visser AW, Fiksen Ø (2013) Optimal foraging in marine ecosystem models: selectivity, profitability and switching. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 473:91-101. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps10079

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