Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Elizabeth F. Ryder, Advisor

Co-advisor

Robert J. Gegear

Identifier

etd-020916-210400

Abstract

Optimal Foraging Theory is a set of mathematical models used in the field of behavioral ecology to predict how animals should weigh foraging costs and benefits in order to maximize their food intake. One popular model, referred to as the Optimal Diet Model (ODM), focuses on how individuals should respond to variation in food quality in order to optimize food selection. The main prediction of the ODM is that low quality food items should only be accepted when higher quality items are encountered below a predicted threshold. Yet, many empirical studies have found that animals still include low quality items in their diet above such thresholds, indicating a sub-optimal foraging strategy. Here, we test the hypothesis that such ‘partial preferences’ are produced as a consequence of incomplete information on prey distributions resulting from memory limitations. To test this hypothesis, we used agent-based modeling in NetLogo to create a model of flower choice behavior in a virtual bumblebee forager (SimBee). We program virtual bee foragers with an adaptive decision-making algorithm based on the classic ODM, which we have modified to include memory. Our results show that the probability of correctly rejecting a low quality food item increases with memory size, suggesting that memory limitations play a significant role in driving partial preferences. We discuss the implications of this finding and further applications of our SimBee model in research and educational contexts.

Publisher

Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Degree Name

MS

Department

Bioinformatics and Computational Biology

Project Type

Thesis

Date Accepted

2016-02-09

Accessibility

Unrestricted

Subjects

agent-based modeling, bumblebee, netlogo, optimal forage theory, virtual

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