How optimal foragers should respond to habitat changes? On the consequences of habitat conversion.
The Marginal Value Theorem (MVT) provides a framework to predict how habitat modifications related to the distribution of resources over patches should impact the realized fitness of individuals and their optimal rate of movement (or patch residence times) across the habitat. Most MVT theory has focused on the consequences of changing the shape of the gain functions in some patches, describing for instance patch enrichment. However an alternative form of habitat modification is habitat conversion, whereby patches are converted from one existing type to another (e.g. closed habitat to open habitat). In such a case the set of gain functions existing in the habitat does not change, only their relative frequencies does. This has received comparatively very little attention in the context of the MVT. Here we analyze mathematically the consequences of habitat conversion under the MVT. We study how realized fitness and the average rate of movement should respond to changes in the frequency distribution of patch-types, and how they should covary. We further compare the response of optimal and non-plastic foragers. We find that the initial pattern of patch-exploitation in a habitat, as characterized by ρINTRA, the regression slope of patch yields over residence times, can help predict the qualitative responses of fitness and movement rate following habitat conversion. We also find that for some habitat conversion patterns, optimal and non-plastic foragers exhibit qualitatively different responses, and that adaptive foragers can have opposite responses in the early and late phases following habitat conversion. We suggest taking into account behavioral responses may help better understand the ecological consequences of habitat conversion.
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