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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The role of outcome unit size in the collective foraging strategies of rats


The distribution of foraging strategies and associated activities of Wistar rats was examined, with food outcomes presented in small vs. large units. Groups of 4 rats foraged for food in a 4 x 3 array of covered holes, some containing 4 g of food. For some groups, food consisted of shelled sunflower seeds (small units); for other groups, food consisted of 3 pellets of chow (large units). Foraging strategies were classified as either production (seeking patches with food) or scrounging (tracking conspecifics). Production strategies were more common among groups that foraged for pellets instead of seeds. Producing food was highly correlated with contacting gates covering holes, whereas scrounging for food was highly correlated with following others in the group. The prevalence of activities associated with each foraging strategy was highly correlated with the proportion of time spent consuming food obtained from each activity (i.e., produced vs. scrounged food). Taken together, these findings suggest that, similar to other species, the finder’s advantage (low with small units, high with large units) modulates social foraging strategies in rats. A simple outcome-strategy feedback mechanism appears to mediate this modulation.

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