Inheritance of optimal foraging behaviour in Columbian ground squirrels

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6 Scopus citations


I examined the potential inheritance of the ability of Columbian ground squirrels (Spermophilus columbianus) to select an optimal diet. I calculated the diet that would maximize daily energy intake for each of 21 adult females and their litters, using a linear programming optimization model for each individual. The absolute value of the difference between an individual's predicted optimal diet and observed diet (deviation from an optimal diet) was used as a measure of an individual's foraging ability. The foraging ability of individuals was consistent over time and in different foraging environments, so I considered foraging ability to be a potentially heritable trait. Inheritance was determined from correlations of mother and offspring foraging ability. I experimentally removed some mothers just as they weaned their offspring so that offspring could not be influenced by their mother while learning to forage, while leaving the other mothers to raise their litters normally. In both cases, offspring strongly resembled their mother in foraging ability. However, offspring with mothers absent exhibited significantly larger deviations from their optimal diet. Offspring with mothers absent appeared to imitate their mother's diet during lactation, and this tendency partially explained their greater deviation. Consequently, offspring appear to inherit the ability to forage optimally from their mother, perhaps through observational learning or imitation. There may also be a genetic basis to foraging ability, but uncontrolled maternal effects in the experiment prevent a proper test for it.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)146-159
Number of pages14
JournalEvolutionary Ecology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1991
Externally publishedYes


  • Optimal foraging
  • cultural evolution
  • ground squirrels
  • inheritance
  • learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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