Classic central place foraging theory does not focus on the foraging of central place herbivores. This is especially true with regard to large mammalian herbivores. To understand the foraging dynamics of these neglected foragers, we measured giving-up densities (GUDs) in artificial food patches. We did this at different distances away from the central point (i.e. corral) for a herd of free-ranging domestic goats. To determine temporal changes, we conducted the study over a 3-mo period during an extended dry season. Throughout our study, goats foraged across a gradient of food availability where forage was more available farther away from the central point. In contrast to the prediction that predation risk and/or increased travel costs were the main drivers of foraging decisions, we found that the goats increased their feeding effort (i.e. achieved lower GUDs) the farther away they moved from the central point. This suggests that either metabolic or missed opportunity costs were the main factors that influenced foraging decisions. In addition, we suggest that social foraging may have also played a role. With increases in foraging opportunities away from the central point, a herd will likely move slowly while foraging. As a result, individuals can feed intensively from patches but remain part of the group. Ironically, owing to the sustained close proximity of other group members, individuals may perceive patches farther from the central point as being safer. Temporally, the goats increased their feeding effort throughout the dry season. This suggests there was a decline in food quality and/or availability across the environment as the study progressed. Despite this increase in feeding effort, the negative relationship with distance did not change. Ultimately, our results provide key insight into how metabolic, missed opportunity and perceived predation costs influence the feeding decisions of large central place herbivores.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Animal Science and Zoology