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Evidence for encounter-conditional, area-restricted search in a preliminary study of Colombian blowgun hunters


Active search for prey is energetically costly, so understanding how foragers optimize search has been central to foraging theory. Some theoretical work has suggested that foragers of randomly distributed prey should search using Lévy flights, while work on area-restricted and intermittent search strategies has demonstrated that foragers can use the information provided by prey encounters to more effectively adapt search direction and velocity. Previous empirical comparisons of these search modes have tended to rely on distribution-level analyses, due to the difficulty of collecting event-level data on encounters linked to the GPS tracks of foragers. Here we use a preliminary event-level data-set (18.7 hours of encounter-annotated focal follows over 6 trips) to show that two Colombian blowgun hunters use adaptive encounter-conditional heuristics, not non-conditional Lévy flights, when searching for prey. Using a theoretically derived Bayesian model, we estimate changes in turning-angle and search velocity as a function of encounters with prey at lagged time-steps, and find that: 1) hunters increase average turning-angle in response to encounters, producing a more tortuous search of patches of higher prey density, but adopt more efficient uni-directional, inter-patch movement after failing to encounter prey over a sufficient period of time; and, 2) hunters reduce search velocity in response to encounters, causing them to spend more of their search time in patches with demonstrably higher prey density. These results illustrate the importance of using event-level data to contrast encounter-conditional, area-restricted search and Lévy flights in explaining the search behavior of humans and other organisms.

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