Foraging strategy in a subterranean rodent, Spalax ehrenbergi: a test case for optimal foraging theory

G. Heth, E. M. Golenberg, E. Nevo

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The foraging behavior of the subterranean mole rat Spalax ehrenbergi (Rodentia, Spalacidae) was tested according to the framework of optimal foraging theory. We compared the frequencies of food species hoarded in storage chambers of mole rats with the frequencies of these species occurring in the vicinity of the mole rats' nest mounds during the winter and spring seasons. In addition, we examined the food composition of several summer nest mounds. Laboratory observations were conducted in order to test the foraging behavior of mole rats under simulated subterranean conditions. The mole rat is a generalist and collects a variety of food species. Out of 33 plant species that were hoarded by mole rats in the 21 studied nest mounds, 61% (n=20) were geophytes, 21% (n=7) perennial herbs, 15% (n=5) annual herbs and 3% (n=1) dwarf shrubs. The frequency of each collected species in the 16 winter and spring nest mounds is in general accordance with its frequency in the mole rat's territory. This implies that the mole rat randomly samples the food reserve of its territory without special preference or directed search for a particular species. The collection or avoidance of any food item is not dependent on the presence or absence of any other food item. We suggest that the foragin generalism of the mole rat is a product of the constraints of a subterranean niche - the necessity to hoard food as much as possible in a limited time period and the high energetic investment of tunneling to the food items.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)496-505
Number of pages10
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 1989


  • Diet
  • Optimal foraging
  • Spatax ehrenbergi
  • Subterranean rodents

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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