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J Theor Biol. 2009 Jan 21;256(2):187-200. doi: 10.1016/j.jtbi.2008.09.024. Epub 2008 Oct 9.

Tracking prey or tracking the prey's resource? Mechanisms of movement and optimal habitat selection by predators.

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  • 1Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544, USA.


We synthesize previous theory on ideal free habitat selection to develop a model of predator movement mechanisms, when both predators and prey are mobile. We consider a continuous environment with an arbitrary distribution of resources, randomly diffusing prey that consume the resources, and predators that consume the prey. Our model introduces a very general class of movement rules in which the overall direction of a predator's movement is determined by a variable combination of (i) random diffusion, (ii) movement in the direction of higher prey density, and/or (iii) movement in the direction of higher density of the prey's resource. With this model, we apply an adaptive dynamics approach to two main questions. First, can it be adaptive for predators to base their movement solely on the density of the prey's resource (which the predators do not consume)? Second, should predator movements be exclusively biased toward higher densities of prey/resources, or is there an optimal balance between random and biased movements? We find that, for some resource distributions, predators that track the gradient of the prey's resource have an advantage compared to predators that track the gradient of prey directly. Additionally, we show that matching (consumers distributed in proportion to resources), overmatching (consumers strongly aggregated in areas of high resource density), and undermatching (consumers distributed more uniformly than resources) distributions can all be explained by the same general habitat selection mechanism. Our results provide important groundwork for future investigations of predator-prey dynamics.

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