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Nature. 2005 Feb 3;433(7025):519-22.

Asymptotic prey profitability drives star-nosed moles to the foraging speed limit.

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Department of Biological Sciences, Vanderbilt University, VU Station B, Box 351634, Nashville, Tennessee 37235, USA.


Foraging theory provides models for predicting predator diet choices assuming natural selection has favoured predators that maximize their rate of energy intake during foraging. Prey profitability (energy gained divided by prey handling time) is an essential variable for estimating the optimal diet. Time constraints of capturing and consuming prey generally result in handling times ranging from minutes to seconds, yet profitability increases dramatically as handling time approaches zero, providing the potential for strong directional selection for increasing predator speed at high encounter rates (tiny increments in speed increase profitability markedly, allowing expanded diets of smaller prey). We provide evidence that the unusual anatomical and behavioural specializations characterizing star-nosed moles resulted from progressively stronger selection for speed, allowing the progressive addition of small prey to their diet. Here we report handling times as short as 120 ms (mean 227 ms) for moles identifying and eating prey. 'Double takes' during prey identification suggest that star-nosed moles have reached the speed limit for processing tactile information. The exceptional speed of star-nosed moles, coupled with unusual specializations for finding and eating tiny prey, provide new support for optimal foraging theory.

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