Individual-level memory is sufficient to create spatial segregation among neighboring colonies of central place foragers

Geert Aarts*, Evert Mul, John Fieberg, Sophie Brasseur, Jan A. van Gils, Jason Matthiopoulos, Louise Riotte-Lambert

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Central place foragers often segregate in space, even without signs of direct agonistic interactions. Using parsimonious individual-based simulations, we show that for species with spatial cognitive abilities, individual-level memory of resource availability can be sufficient to cause spatial segregation in the foraging ranges of colonial animals. The shapes of the foraging distributions are governed by commuting costs, the emerging distribution of depleted resources, and the fidelity of foragers to their colonies. When colony fidelity is weak and foragers can easily switch to colonies located closer to favorable foraging grounds, this leads to space partitioning with equidistant borders between neighboring colonies. In contrast, when colony fidelity is strong—for example, because larger colonies provide safety in numbers or individuals are unable to leave—it can create a regional imbalance between resource requirements and resource availability. This leads to nontrivial space-use patterns that propagate through the landscape. Interestingly, while better spatial memory creates more defined boundaries between neighboring colonies, it can lower the average intake rate of the population, suggesting a potential trade-off between an individual’s attempt for increased intake and population growth rates.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E37-E52
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number2
Early online date24 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Animal movement
  • Animal tracking
  • Central place foraging
  • Public information
  • Space partitioning
  • Species distribution


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