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Steven Holloway, Michael McBeath, Kathryn Van Etten; Easter Egg Hunt Winners use Competition-Density Minimizing Foraging Strategy to “Bring Home the Bacon” (and Eggs). Journal of Vision 2015;15(12):408. doi: 10.1167/15.12.408.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
This study examines foraging strategy in the ecologically-valid, real-world setting of a competitive Easter Egg Hunt. Foraging studies often test marginal value theorem (MVT), an optimality model that describes ideal foraging behavior in patchy environments with diminishing returns. A typical setting for studying MVT is picking in an apple orchard. Here, a forager balances pursuit of nearby, smaller, lower-density reward trees with pursuit of more distant, larger, higher-density reward trees. The optimal MVT apple-picking tactic has been shown to utilize a cost-benefit analysis of these two pursuit strategies. However, such models omit the real-world role of competitor behavior which complicates modeling but improves ecological validity. To address this issue, we examined foraging behavior in an Easter Egg Hunt. We analyzed competitive foraging behavior of 64 adults in an egg hunt with patchy egg distribution. We found that the most successful hunters initially ignored nearby patches with densely distributed eggs when those patches were crowded with competitors. Instead, top hunters favored running to distant patches with less dense egg-distributions and scant competition. Best performers also exhibited distinct strategy stages, reorienting after the initial scramble removed easily visible eggs, and, then, methodically exploring crowded but difficult areas that novices treated more cursorily. In contrast to apple orchards without dynamic competition, the best strategy was not dominated by MVT planning phases of shortest-routes-to-densest-egg-distribution areas. Rather, it was dominated by taking advantage of behavioral tendencies of competition and systematically changing strategies when the competitive environment fundamentally changed. Our findings support that standard traveling salesman route-length minimization models, like MVT, can be improved by incorporating dynamic competition variables that are fundamental to many real-world foraging tasks. Egg hunters who initially minimize density of competition and later brave crowds to persistently scour tougher terrains prove to be the ones who “bring home the bacon” (and eggs)!
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2015
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