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Optimal foraging: Simulation studies of diet choice in a stochastic environment


Foraging models are a growing part of the ethnobiological study of hunter-gatherers. Highly simplified for analytical reasons, the early “classical” versions of these models excluded consideration of several relevant factors. Among them is the possibility of maladaptive food shortages due to the effects of stochastic environmental fluctuations on food capture rates. To remedy this deficiency, the present simulation study develops a stochastic, risk-minimizing analog to the widely used but deterministic and rate-maximizing diet choice model. The results indicate that optimal efficiency-maximizing and risk-minimizing choices are quite similar. However, even with the optimal risk-minimizing choice, the forager in a stochastic environment will experience large variations in food capture rate from one time interval to the next. This and other studies using and developing foraging theory hold the promise of a micro-ecological theory of hunter-gatherer economies, past and present.

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