Optimal Foraging Theory Rides Again
When the history of great scientific polemics is written, it is refreshing to know that behavioral ecology will have at least one representative. And for the chapter on “optimal foraging theory,” one suspects that readers might display some confusion regarding what the fuss was all about. Operating on the assumption that natural selection, by whatever means, has influenced feeding behavior, it utilizes mathematical models to predict what an animal should do given a particular foraging problem under various constraints and assumptions. Although this seems innocent enough, the explosion of interest in foraging theory in the 1970s and 1980s led to some of the most scathing critiques imaginable, all of which viewed the undertaking as tautological and assuming perfection in nature. The arguments of the critics notwithstanding, their article titles remain classic: “Eight reasons why optimal foraging theory is a complete waste of time” (Pierce and Ollason 1987), “Faith and foraging: A...
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