We compared the foraging behavior of mourning doves Zenaida macroura and cottontail rabbits Sylvilagus floridanus in patches that varied in initial food abundance, surface area and substrate depth. We measured giving-up densities (GUD), food harvest and proportion of food harvested to investigate their ability to respond to characteristics of resource patches. GUDs have been analyzed in three ways: grams of per patch, grams per unit surface area (GUDAREA), and grams per unit volume of sand (GUDVOL).
Mourning doves and cottontails exhibited similar responses to resource density and sand depth. Both foragers detected and responded to variation in initial food abundance. The proportion of food harvested from a patch increased from 40.7, 43.8 to 48.3% (for the doves) and 34.9, 35.8 to 38.4% (for the rabbits) in patches of low, medium and high initial food abundance, respectively. Deeper substrates reduced the foragers’ encounter probability with food, decreased patch quality and resulted in higher GUDs (60% higher in the deepest relative to shallowest substrate) and lower harvests. A significant interaction between initial food abundance and substrate depth showed that both species were willing to dig deeper in patches with higher resource density. Patch size (surface area) had no effect on food harvest or the proportion of food harvested. Consequently, GUDAREA and GUDVOL increased in patches with a smaller surface area. Smaller patches appeared to hamper the dove's and cottontail's movement across the surface.
Our results revealed that mourning doves and cottontails forage under imperfect information. Both species were able to respond to patch properties by biasing their feeding efforts toward rich and easy opportunities, however, mourning doves were more efficient at food harvesting.
The interaction of patch area, volume and food abundance directly influenced food harvest. Such resource characters occur under natural situations where food varies in abundance, area of distribution, and accessibility.