How optimally foraging predators promote prey coexistence in a variable environment

Simon Maccracken Stump, Peter Chesson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Optimal foraging is one of the major predictive theories of predator foraging behavior. However, how an optimally foraging predator affects the coexistence of competing prey is not well understood either in a constant or variable environment, especially for multiple prey species. We study the impact of optimal foraging on prey coexistence using an annual plant model, with and without annual variation in seed germination. Seed predators are modeled using Charnov's model of adaptive diet choice. Our results reveal that multiple prey species can coexist because of this type of predator, and that their effect is not greatly modified by environmental variation. However, in diverse communities, the requirements for coexistence by optimal foraging alone are very restrictive. Optimally foraging predators can have a strong equalizing effect on their prey by creating a competition–predation trade-off. Thus, their main role in promoting diversity may be to reduce species-average fitness differences, making it easier for other mechanisms, such as the storage effect, to allow multiple species to coexist. Like previous models, our model showed that when germination rates vary, the storage effect from competition promotes coexistence. Our results also show that optimally foraging predators can generate a negative storage effect from predation, undermining coexistence, but that this effect will be minor whenever predators commonly differentiate their prey.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)40-58
Number of pages19
JournalTheoretical Population Biology
StatePublished - Apr 1 2017


  • Annual plant model
  • Apparent competition
  • Coexistence
  • Optimal foraging theory
  • Storage effect
  • Type II functional response

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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