This module introduces the optimal foraging strategy in the context of understanding competition and coexistence among species. It is intended for an introductory biology audience.
Student Introduction: The absolute limits of the range of food types eaten by a consumer in a given habitat are defined by morphological constraints, but very few animals actually eat all of the different food types they are capable of consuming. Optimal foraging theory helps biologists understand the factors determining a consumerís operational range of food types, or diet width. At the one extreme, animals employing a generalist strategy tend to have broad diets; they chase and eat many of the prey/food items with which they come into contact. At the other extreme, those with a specialist strategy have narrow diets and ignore many of the prey items they come across, searching preferentially for a few specific types of food. In general, animals exhibit strategies ranging across a continuum between these two extremes.