The effects of spatial food distribution and group size on foraging behaviour in a benthic fish
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Animals foraging in heterogeneous environments benefit from information on local resource density because it allows allocation of foraging effort to rich patches. In foraging groups, this information may be obtained by individuals through sampling or by observing the foraging behaviour of group members. We studied the foraging behaviour of goldfish (Carassius auratus) groups feeding in pools on resources distributed in patches. First, we determined if goldfish use sampling information to distinguish between patches of different qualities, and if this allowed goldfish to benefit from a heterogeneous resource distribution. Then, we tested if group size affected the time dedicated to food searching and ultimately foraging success. The decision of goldfish to leave a patch was affected by whether or not they found food, indicating that goldfish use an assessment rule. Giving-up density was higher when resources were highly heterogeneous, but overall gain was not affected by resource distribution. We did not observe any foraging benefits of larger groups, which indicate that grouping behaviour was driven by risk dilution. In larger groups the proportion searching for food was lower, which suggests interactions among group members. We conclude that competition between group members affects individual investments in food searching by introducing the possibility for alternative strategies, such as scrounging or resource monopolisation. (c) 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.