A search game model of the scatter hoarder's problem

Steve Alpern, Robbert Fokkink, Lidbetter Thomas, Nicola S. Clayton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Scatter hoarders are animals (e.g. squirrels) who cache food (nuts) over a number of sites for later collection. A certain minimum amount of food must be recovered, possibly after pilfering by another animal, in order to survive the winter. An optimal caching strategy is one that maximizes the survival probability, given worst case behaviour of the pilferer. We modify certain 'accumulation games' studied by Kikuta & Ruckle (2000 J. Optim. Theory Appl.) and Kikuta & Ruckle (2001 Naval Res. Logist.), which modelled the problem of optimal diversification of resources against catastrophic loss, to include the depth atwhich the food is hidden at each caching site. Optimal caching strategies can then be determined as equilibria in a new 'caching game'.We show how the distribution of food over sites and the site-depths of the optimal caching varies with the animal's survival requirements and the amount of pilfering.We showthat in some cases, 'decoy nuts' are required to be placed above other nuts that are buried further down at the same site. Methods from the field of search games are used. Some empirically observed behaviour can be shown to be optimal in our model.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)869-879
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number70
StatePublished - May 7 2012
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biotechnology
  • Biophysics
  • Bioengineering
  • Biomaterials
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomedical Engineering


  • Food caching
  • Resource diversification
  • Scatter hoarder
  • Search game

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