The ecological economics of kleptoparasitism: Pay-offs from self-foraging versus kleptoparasitism

Tom P. Flower*, Matthew F. Child, Amanda R. Ridley

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    25 Citations (Scopus)


    Animals commonly steal food from other species, termed interspecific kleptoparasitism, but why animals engage in kleptoparasitism compared with alternate foraging tactics, and under what circumstances they do so, is not fully understood. Determining what specific benefits animals gain from kleptoparasitism could provide valuable insight into its evolution. Here, we investigate the benefits of kleptoparasitism for a population of individually recognizable and free-living fork-tailed drongos (Dicrurus adsimilis) in the southern Kalahari Desert. Drongos engaged in two foraging behaviours: self-foraging for small insects or following other species which they kleptoparasitized for larger terrestrial prey that they could not capture themselves. Kleptoparasitism consequently enabled drongos to exploit a new foraging niche. Kleptoparasitism benefitted drongos most in the morning and on colder days because at these times pay-offs from kleptoparasitism remained stable, while those from self-foraging declined. However, drongos engaged in kleptoparasitism less than expected given the overall high (but more variable) pay-offs from this behaviour, suggesting that kleptoparasitism is a risky foraging tactic and may incur additional foraging costs compared with self-foraging. This is the first study to comprehensively investigate the benefits of facultatively engaging in kleptoparasitism, demonstrating that animals may switch to kleptoparasitism to exploit a new foraging niche when pay-offs exceed those from alternate foraging behaviours.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)245-255
    Number of pages11
    JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Jan 2013


    • Food competition
    • Foraging ecology
    • Mixed-species association
    • Optimal foraging
    • Sex differences


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