This material is published by Oikos (2000, vol 89, pp 24-36).
Extension of ideal free resource use to breeding populations and metapopulations
The concept of an ideal and free use of limiting resources is commonly invoked in behavioural ecology as a null model for predicting the distribution of foraging consumers across heterogeneous habitat. In its original conception, however, its predictions were applied to the longer time-scales of habitat selection by breeding birds. Here I present a general model of ideal free resource use, which encompasses classical deterministic models for the dynamics in continuous time of feeding aggregations, breeding populations and metapopulations. I illustrate its key predictions using the consumer functional response given by Holling's disc equation. The predictions are all consistent with classical population dynamics, but at least two of them are not usually recognised as pertaining across all scales. At the fine scale of feeding aggregations, the steady state of an equal intake for all ideal free consumers may be intrinsically unstable, if patches are efficiently exploited by individuals with a non-negligible handling time of resources. At coarser scales, classical models of population and metapopulation dynamics assume exploitation of a homogeneous environment, yet they can yield testable predictions for heterogeneous environments too under the assumption of ideal free resource use.
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