Look before you leap: is risk of injury a foraging cost?

Behav Ecol Sociobiol. 2009 Oct;63(12):1821-1827. doi: 10.1007/s00265-009-0809-3. Epub 2009 Jul 7.


Theory states that an optimal forager should exploit a patch so long as its harvest rate of resources from the patch exceeds its energetic, predation, and missed opportunity costs for foraging. However, for many foragers, predation is not the only source of danger they face while foraging. Foragers also face the risk of injuring themselves. To test whether risk of injury gives rise to a foraging cost, we offered red foxes pairs of depletable resource patches in which they experienced diminishing returns. The resource patches were identical in all respects, save for the risk of injury. In response, the foxes exploited the safe patches more intensively. They foraged for a longer time and also removed more food (i.e., had lower giving up densities) in the safe patches compared to the risky patches. Although they never sustained injury, video footage revealed that the foxes used greater care while foraging from the risky patches and removed food at a slower rate. Furthermore, an increase in their hunger state led foxes to allocate more time to foraging from the risky patches, thereby exposing themselves to higher risks. Our results suggest that foxes treat risk of injury as a foraging cost and use time allocation and daring-the willingness to risk injury-as tools for managing their risk of injury while foraging. This is the first study, to our knowledge, which explicitly tests and shows that risk of injury is indeed a foraging cost. While nearly all foragers may face an injury cost of foraging, we suggest that this cost will be largest and most important for predators.