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5 Ways to Make Foraging a More Approachable Topic for Students

Akanksha Saxena
Biology
Higher Education
Teaching with Labster

Introduction: Foraging

Unlike us human beings, animals and birds have to look for food in wild spaces. They don’t have convenient options like marts and malls where different types of food options are assorted and well arranged. Therefore, this becomes one of the prime essential requirements that all animals and birds have to mandatorily take care of. Food, survival and reproduction are thereby considered prime necessities that every life form needs to be very calculative about.

In that sense, animals and birds invest a lot of energy and time to find appropriate, nutritious and life-sustaining food resources. This act in behavioral ecology is studied under the heading of “foraging”. Environmental and behavioral ecologists study how the behavior of animals and birds changes and fluctuates when they search for food in ecological spaces.

Looking from an energetic point of view, these studies help in linking an animal’s behavior to its basic need for sustaining its life. When we consider the same thing in a community setup, the lifecycles and community structure also become important. 

The topic is quite novel and heavy on content for students. We, at Labster, understand the issues faced by students and teachers alike. To solve these issues, we have compiled some resources here. This article can provide some help as it attempts to identify the major issues encountered by students while studying this topic. It also lists practical solutions that teachers and educators can incorporate while teaching the same in their next class. By the end, we’ll convince you why a virtual lab simulation will prove useful not only for your students but also for you as an educator to deliver concepts more efficiently.

Why can Foraging be tricky to teach or learn?

There are 3 reasons why students dread and confuse the topic of Foraging. Acknowledging these issues is the first step towards making the topic more approachable. 

1. It is very bulky

This topic of environmental ecology is quite bulky and full of details. Students find it hard to comprehend the meaning of foraging and related topics. The mere introduction of foraging theory, currency and energy budgets makes the topic sound too abstract. This undermines the vitality of the phenomenon in nature as per many educators. Students fail to follow the premise of the introduction of this topic with some definitions and it usually ends too with definitions. Topics like foraging strategy, forager-prey relationship, forager-predator relationship, forager's social habits, effects of climate and cycle of seasons, basal needs, tolerated variability in a forager's life conditions, optimal foraging theory, foraging currency, daily energy budget rule, foraging constraints, dietary restrictions, optimal patch choice, risk sensitivity, biologging, etc can be quite overwhelming for students.

2. It seems irrelevant to the real world 

Students often find the idea of foraging quite theoretical and impractical for any job or career course. Educators also fail to explain why studying animal behavior in conjunction with food resource availability is important for Earth’s overall ecological balance. Living in the modern world where everything is directly equated to monetary gains or success, studying animal behavior can sound stupid, but it isn’t. And we fail to explain this rationally to our young learners. This leads to a situation where most of our students try to sail through Ecology topics just to pass exams and never get a chance to understand the subject. Foraging, as a topic, has the same fate.

3. Lack of interactive tools and visual options

Explaining the ideas related to foraging can turn monotonous in a traditional classroom setup. This is because the ideas are novel and there are too few visual options (pictures, illustrations, infographics, videos, simulations) available in the public domain. Students are forced to learn the definitions of foraging constraints, theories, currency, etc. Educators also find it hard to deliver effective lectures. 

5 ways to make Foraging a more approachable topic to understand


To address the issues encountered while teaching this topic, educators can engage the under-listed solutions in their classes. These can decode many different aspects of Foraging. Not only can they make teaching easier for educators like you but will also make lessons clearer and easier to assimilate for your students.

1. Start with the basics  

Rather than directly explaining theories and rules, we recommend modern-day educators and teachers first explain the meaning of basic terms and concepts. This can help in building a strong foundation over which the entire topic can be discussed and debated. We list a few topics that you can begin with your next class.

  • Linking animal behavior to its basic needs for survival

  • Building a foraging strategy

  • Activities requiring energy in general and how that energy is acquired

  • Factors that need to account for when we talk about foraging

  • Forager-prey relationship

  • Forager-predators relationship

  • Forager's social habits

  • Forager’s basal needs 

  • Models used by environmental scientists for studying the foraging strategies and their respective efficiencies

  • The idea of Optimal Foraging Theory

  • The idea of optimal patch choice and the concept of risk-sensitivity 

foraging virtual lab 3

Figure: A snippet from the Foraging simulation by Labster where you can explain the factors to be accounted for when discussing foraging. It is available for University/College classes.

2. Conduct more interactive discussions

We recommend educators engage their students in more open-ended discussions. You can ask your students to read in general about foraging and come up with common examples in their surroundings. If some of them have been to forests or jungles before, they can quote examples of foraging behavior from the wild. Such an active discussion can help them understand and account for different factors that modulate and fine-tune the foraging behavior.

Foraging virtual lab

Figure: A snippet from the Foraging simulation by Labster. It is available for University/College classes.

3. Make it simple with examples

Quoting examples where your students can readily observe the foraging behavior of animals and birds can be a cool idea to make the topic readily assimilable. Here, we provide a few examples you can use in your next class. 

Example: Apes learn foraging behavior from their elders and peers. Chimps, gorillas, baboons, orangutans, and gibbons are non-human primates who tend to observe how their fellow companions forage and end up copying them. In an ode to perfect their foraging behavior, this imitation game starts quite early in their life cycles and helps them proficiently choose between healthy versus toxic food options.

4.  Use more interactive and updated options 

Since the topic of foraging is full of intricate details and novel theories, we recommend educators employ more interactive illustrations and visual options to keep the class involved. Ideas are bound to be delivered more effectively when students have access to images, GIFs, simulations, infographics, and flowcharts. Colorful ideas display has been proven to impact more than white-and-black textual options.

Another way of keeping students interested in your class on foraging is to share recent research articles on the topic with them. This can give them insights into how behavioral ecologists study foraging, the tools they use for this purpose, and the methodological practices they employ in their studies. We quote recent research articles that you can share in your next class:

  • Western gray whale behavioral response to seismic surveys during their foraging season (Link)

  • Foraging strategies underlying bird egg predation by macaques: A study using artificial nests (Link)

  • Quadratic relationships between group size and foraging efficiency in a herbivorous primate (Link)

  • Coupling bio-logging with nutritional geometry to reveal novel insights into the foraging behavior of a plunge-diving marine predator (Link)

Biologging uses different types of modern tools like cameras, recording devices, etc for tracking an animal, bird, or marine species through its natural habitat. It helps in providing information about their foraging patches and social habits. One can predict the animal’s overall behavior using these biologging tools.

5. Use virtual lab simulations

Since the topic of foraging is an extensive field to deal with in a traditional classroom setup, we recommend modern-day educators use the Foraging simulation from Labster. It can help you bridge the gaps left even after employing the above-mentioned 4 solutions. 

In a virtual space, your students can study an alien species from an exoplanet. As they learn about their unique dietary choices and food acquisition modes (foraging strategies), they can build a model and study it in depth. With the simulation’s prediction tools, students can estimate how an animal’s behavior regulates its foraging habits, how foraging currency works, and what the daily energy budget is. 

Teachers and educators can make more insightful points as students are rendered with better Pictionary options where they can follow the different concepts freely. Using this way of active and immersive teaching, our virtual learning platform takes an advent in the field of Science to make the upcoming scientists thorough with the “basics of their respective subjects”. 

You can learn more about the Foraging simulation here or get in touch to find out how you can start using virtual labs with your students.

fos GIF

Figure: A snippet from the Foraging simulation by Labster. It is available for University/College classes.

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