The analysis of animal movement is a large and continuously growing field of research. Detailed knowledge about movement strategies is of crucial importance for understanding eco-evolutionary dynamics at all scales – from individuals to (meta-)populations. This and the availability of detailed movement and dispersal data motivated Nathan and colleagues to published their much appreciated call to base movement ecology on a more thorough mechanistic basis. So far, most movement models are based on random walks. However, even if a random walk might describe real movement patterns acceptably well, there is no reason to assume that animals move randomly. Therefore, mechanistic models of foraging strategies should be based on information use and memory in order to increase our understanding of the processes that lead to animal movement decisions.
We present a mechanistic movement model of an animal with a limited perceptual range and basic information storage capacities. This ‘spatially informed forager’ constructs an internal map of its environment by using perception, memory and learned or evolutionarily acquired assumptions about landscape attributes. We analyse resulting movement patterns and search efficiencies and compare them to area restricted search strategies (ARS) and biased correlated random walks (BCRW) of omniscient individuals.
We show that, in spite of their limited perceptual range, spatially informed individuals boost their foraging success and may perform much better than the best ARS. The construction of an internal map and the use of spatial information results in the emergence of a highly correlated walk between patches and a rather systematic search within resource clusters. Furthermore, the resulting movement patterns may include foray search behaviour. Our work highlights the strength of mechanistic modelling approaches and sets the stage for the development of more sophisticated models of memory use for movement decisions and dispersal.