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Bag a Job, Bag Your Prey: Search Theory Used to Manage Threats from Overhunting

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  • Bag a Job, Bag Your Prey: Search Theory Used to Manage Threats from Overhunting

    By Alton Parrish (Reporter)

    How many jobs should an applicant consider before accepting the next job offer? Turns out the same decision-making process that goes into searching for a job also applies to hunters searching for prey, and the knowledge can be used in conservation.

    Just as a job applicant goes through a series of decisions each time a potential job is on the table, so too a hunter faces a series of decisions: shoot and gain a reward or delay and wait for another potential prey. What is the optimal stopping point?

    Optimal decisions have been used in ecology to address questions about a mate or food choice. In this case, an ecologist from the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis and a mathematician from Princeton University used it to study hunter diet to determine the optimal stopping point.

    Mathematically, the decision to shoot yields what the researchers called a “dietary trait threshold” —the point at which the desired trait such as large body mass or antler size is reached and leads the hunter to take a shot.

    Globally, body size is an important determinant of prey value, the researchers wrote, and so it can help predict which species are threatened by overexploitation.

    Hunted mammals and birds for sale in a marketplace in Southwest China. Overhunting in the region’s tropical rainforests threatens a wide range of species. A new model aims to better understand hunters’ decisions to shoot or not in order to develop conservation tools.