student profile: Mr Gabriel Orlando


Thesis work

Thesis title: Patch use and decision-making by foraging mammalian herbivores at small spatial and temporal scales. What are the covert drivers of feeding patterns?

Supervisors: Clare MCARTHUR , Peter BANKS

Thesis abstract:

Since animals spend large amounts of time and energy searching for food, foraging is one of the most relevant ecological processes at the individual level. It involves moving throughout a landscape of different quality food (finding a patch phase), while assessing the potential threats and benefits of making particular choices (diet selection phase and quitting a patch phase). Central to the study of foraging behaviour, the optimal foraging theory considers all decisions are made to maximise the animal net rate of energy gain. Based on this theory, most of the works in foraging decision-making have focused on when and why a forager chooses to abandon a patch (quitting a patch phase), while the early phases are still poorly understood. In this project, I will study the foraging phases of finding a patch and diet selection, addressing three main questions: What makes a forager visit a patch? How are decisions made once in a food patch? What makes a forager revisit a patch? I will incorporate animal cognition into my research, an aspect often overlooked in the optimal foraging theory where prescient knowledge is assumed. From here, I propose three aims: 1. Test the importance of odour cues in finding food patches; 2. Determine the role and use of heuristics in foraging; 3. Define the role of memory in foraging. To do this, I will use free-ranging swamp wallabies. This is a relevant study system given the impact that it generates on many humans activities in Australia.The results of this research will enhance our knowledge about the foraging process, allowing us to better understand the factors that modulate the behaviour of foragers and to propose new management actions to reduce conflicts between wildlife and people.

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