Improved foraging by switching between diffusion and advection: benefits from movement that depends on spatial context

William F. Fagan, Tyler Hoffman, Daisy Dahiya, Eliezer Gurarie, Robert Stephen Cantrell, Chris Cosner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Animals use different modes of movement at different times, in different locations, and on different scales. Incorporating such context dependence in mathematical models represents a substantial increase in complexity, but creates an opportunity to more fully integrate key biological features. Here, we consider the spatial dynamics of a population of foragers with two subunits. In one subunit, foragers move via diffusion (random search) whereas in the other, foragers move via advection (gradient-following search). Foragers switch back and forth between the subunits as functions of their spatial context (i.e., depending on whether they are inside or outside of a patch, or depending on whether or not they can detect a gradient in resource density). We consider a one-dimensional binary landscape of resource patches and non-habitat and gauge success in terms of how well the mobile foragers overlap with the distribution of resources. Actively switching between dispersal modes can sometimes greatly enhance this spatial overlap relative to the spatial overlap possible when foragers merely blend advection and diffusion modes at all times. Switching between movement modes is most beneficial when organism’s gradient-following abilities are weak compared to its overall capacity for movement, but switching can actually be quite detrimental for organisms that can rapidly follow resource gradients. An organism’s perceptual range plays a critical role in determining the conditions under which switching movement modes benefits versus disadvantages foragers as they seek out resources.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)127-136
Number of pages10
JournalTheoretical Ecology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2020


  • Advection
  • Context-dependent movement
  • Diffusion
  • Movement behavior
  • Oriented movement
  • Perception
  • Perceptual range

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Ecological Modeling


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