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For the material that is eaten by foraging animals, see Forage.

Foraging is searching for wild food resources. It affects an animal's fitness because it plays an important role in an animal's ability to survive and reproduce. Foraging theory is a branch of behavioral ecology that studies the foraging behavior of animals in response to the environment where the animal lives.

Behavioral ecologists use economic models to understand foraging; many of these models are a type of optimality model. Thus foraging theory is discussed in terms of optimizing a payoff from a foraging decision. The payoff for many of these models is the amount of energy an animal receives per unit time, more specifically, the highest ratio of energetic gain to cost while foraging. Foraging theory predicts that the decisions that maximize energy per unit time and thus deliver the highest payoff will be selected for and persist. Key words used to describe foraging behavior include resources, the elements necessary for survival and reproduction which have a limited supply, predator, any organism that consumes others, and prey, an organism that is eaten in part or whole by another.

Behavioral ecologists first tackled this topic in the 1960s and 1970s. Their goal was to quantify and formalize a set of models to test their null hypothesis that animals forage randomly. Important contributions to foraging theory have been made by:

  • ^ Danchin, E., Giraldeau, L., and Cezilly, F. (2008). Behavioural Ecology. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-920629-2. 
  • ^

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