Effect of Group Size on Feeding Rate when Patches are Exhaustible


G. Beauchamp, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Montréal, P.O. Box 5000, St-Hyacinthe, Québec, Canada J2S 7C6.
E-mail: guy.beauchamp@umontreal.ca


One benefit of group foraging is that individual foragers can join the food discoveries of companions and thus increase encounter rate with food patches. When food patches are exhaustible, however, individual shares of each patch will decrease with group size negating the effect of increased encounter rate. Mean feeding rate may actually decrease with group size as a result of aggression or time wasted joining already depleted patches, or when searching to join the food discoveries of others, which is referred to as scrounging, precludes finding food. I examined the relationship between mean feeding rate and group size in captive flocks of zebra finches (Taenopygia guttata) foraging for small clumps of seeds. Finches in groups of two or four fared better than solitary birds in terms of mean feeding rate despite the fact that birds in groups scrounged a large proportion of their food. Solitary birds initiated feeding activity after a longer delay, which led to their lower success. Early departures by food finders from food patches joined by others may have lessened the impact of scrounging on mean feeding rate. As a result of benefits from the presence of companions, group foraging in zebra finches appears a viable alternative to foraging alone despite the cost of sharing resources.