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Visualizing wading bird optimal foraging decisions with aggregation behaviors using individual-based modeling

June 17, 2024

Foragers on patchy landscapes must efficiently balance time between searching for and consuming resources to meet their daily energetic requirements. Spatial aggregation foraging behaviors may improve foraging efficiency by sharing information on locations of resource hotspots. Wading birds are an example of patch foragers that form colonial aggregations during the breeding season to obtain sufficient prey energy to sustain themselves and their offspring each day. Here, we describe a spatially-explicit simulation model of wading bird optimal foraging that represents information sharing through visual cues. The overall purpose of the model is to describe how wading bird daily foraging and reproductive success may change with alternative water control management practices that determine spatial availability of prey for wading birds on the landscape, throughout their breeding seasons. Wading birds are simulated as individuals that operate independently, sampling and selecting among patches based on a prey density tolerance threshold, but also use information from other birds to inform their selection decisions. Foraging success is evaluated against the fundamental objectives of (a) fulfilling daily energetic demands and (b) minimizing predation exposure, by tracking individual daily energetic intake and time spent foraging. In this way, the model approximates population level dynamics of wading bird aggregations that emerge through collective decision making of birds simulated at the lower individual level. Key results of this study suggest that aggregation behaviors may improve population-level foraging success rates, and the optimal settling threshold may modulate when resources become more scarce or difficult to find. Thus, the model addresses ecological theory on the advantages of foraging in groups versus independently. This technique is appropriate for evaluating wading bird populations that forage on patchy landscapes, such as seasonally-pulsed wetlands, wherever sufficient information is available to describe (1) foraging behavior (e.g., feeding rate, flight speeds, patch selection decisions), (2) key landscape characteristics, (3) spatial distributions of prey densities among foraging patches, and (4) changes in prey densities through time. The model was designed to predict qualitative, testable spatial patterns of wading bird foraging movements which can be compared with empirical observations and empirically-derived habitat suitability models. These techniques can also be applied to other bird species, such as shorebirds, or more generally to any species that transits between discrete foraging patches.

Publication Year 2024
Title Visualizing wading bird optimal foraging decisions with aggregation behaviors using individual-based modeling
DOI 10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2024.110702
Authors Simeon Yurek, Donald L. DeAngelis, Hyo Won Lee, Stephen Tennenbaum
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecological Modelling
Index ID 70255606
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Wetland and Aquatic Research Center