Luttbeg, Barney; Langen, Tom A. 2004. Comparing alternative models to empirical data: Cognitive models of western scrub-jay foraging behavior. American Naturalist. Vol: 163(2). Pages 263-276. (Abstract) (Online version)
Animals often select one item from a set of candidates, as when choosing a foraging site or mate, and are expected to possess accurate and efficient rules for acquiring information and making decisions. Little is known, however, about the decision rules animals use. We compare patterns of information sampling by western scrub-jays (Aphelocoma californica) when choosing a nut with three decision rules: best of n (BN), flexible threshold (FT), and comparative Bayes (CB). First, we use a null hypothesis testing approach and find that the CB decision rule, in which individuals use past experiences to make nonrandom assessment and choice decisions, produces patterns of behavior that more closely correspond to observed patterns of nut sampling in scrub-jays than the other two rules. This approach does not allow us to quantify how much better CB is at predicting scrub-jay behavior than the other decision rules. Second, we use a model selection approach that uses Akaike Information Criteria to quantify how well alternative models approximate observed data. We find that the CB rule is much more likely to produce the observed patterns of scrub-jay behavior than the other rules. This result provides some of the best empirical evidence of the use of Bayesian information updating by a nonhuman animal.