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The economics of kleptoparasitism: optimal foraging, host and prey selection by gulls

The economics of kleptoparasitism: optimal foraging, host and prey selection by gulls

Animal Behaviour 344: 1189-1205

ISSN/ISBN: 0003-3472

DOI: 10.1016/s0003-3472(86)80179-8

Kleptoparasites (food thieves) use the time and energy investment of others to reduce their costs of obtaining food. In charadriiform flocks on agricultural pastureland, gulls (Larus ridibundus) behaved as pure kleptoparasites on two species of plovers (lapwings, Vanellus vanellus and golden plovers, Pluvialis apricaria). Two energy maximizing models are developed to examine attack duration and prey size selection by gulls. Risk of detection, behaviour of plovers, energy content of target worms (Lumbricidae), and time and energy costs of making an attack all influenced attack efficiency. Most attacks were made over the range of distances expected to provide the highest average rate of energy intake. An optimal diet breadth model catered for the usual constraints of attack and handling time, as well as the probability of not being detected and the estimated energetic cost of making an attack. The model predicted that gulls should steal medium to large sized worms; 94% of the gulls' diet consisted of these. As predicted by optimal foraging theory, there was an inverse relationship between capture rates of profitable and unprofitable worms, and capture rate of profitable worms increased with encounter rate. Gulls foraged most efficiently in single-species host flocks, apparently because (a) attacks involving lapwings incurred smaller costs and (b) gulls were more numerous and competitive in mixed species host flocks. The paper ends with an appraisal of the models and discusses departures from their predictions. Important parellels between kleptoparasite-host and predator-prey associations are drawn throughout; the observability of the former can reveal much about the latter.

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