Optimal Foraging Theory

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

To account for the selective behavior of hunters and gatherers (nomadic people), in regard to the selectiveness when they hunt, ecologists and anthropologists have developed a set of principles known as optimal foraging theory. This theory predicts that hunters or collectors will pursue or harvest only those species that maximize the rate of caloric return for the time they spend foraging. There will always be at least one species that will be taken on encounter, namely, the one with the highest rate of caloric return fro each hour of "handling time" (time spent in pursuing, killing, collecting, carrying, preparing, and cooking the species after it is encountered. The foragers will take a second, third, or fourth species when they encounter it only if by doing so it raises the rate of caloric return for their total effort (Charnov 1976). Foragers, of course, do not actually measure how many calories they expend or obtain. But through repeated trial and error, they achieve a rather precise knowledge of whether it is worth their while to take a particular species.