Foraging Foraging theory is a branch of behavioral ecology that studies the foraging behavior of animals in response to the environment in which the animal lives. Foraging theory considers the foraging behavior of animals in reference to the payoff that an animal obtains from different foraging options. Foraging theory predicts that the foraging options that deliver the highest payoff, should be favored by foraging animals because it will have the highest fitness payoff.
Robert MacArthur, J M Emlen, and Eric Pianka, first proposed an optimal foraging theory in an independent paper in 1966. This theory argued that because of the key importance of successful foraging to an individual's survival, it should be possible to predict foraging behavior by using decision theory to determine the behavior that would be shown by an "optimal forager" - one with perfect knowledge of what to do to maximize usable food intake. While the behavior of real animals inevitably departs from that of the optimal forager, optimal foraging theory has proved very useful in developing hypotheses for describing real foraging behavior. Departures from optimality often help to identify constraints either in the animal's behavioral or cognitive repertoire, or in the environment, that had not previously been suspected. With those constraints identified, foraging behavior often does approach the optimal pattern even if it is not identical to it.