How animals locate nutritious but camouflaged prey items with increasing accuracy is not well understood. Olfactory foraging is common in vertebrates and the nutritional desirability of food should influence the salience of odour cues. We used signal detection analysis to test the effect of nutritional value relative to the conspicuousness of food patches on rates of foraging improvement of wild house mice Mus musculus searching for buried food (preferred peanuts or non-preferred barley). Olfactory cues were arranged to make food patches conspicuous or difficult to distinguish using a novel form of olfactory camouflage. Regardless of food type or abundance, mice searching for conspicuous food patches performed significantly better than mice searching for camouflaged patches. However, food type influenced how mice responded to different levels of conspicuousness. Mice searching for peanuts improved by similar rates regardless of whether food was easy or hard to find, but mice searching for barley showed significant differences, improving rapidly when food was conspicuous but declining in accuracy when food was camouflaged. Our results demonstrate a fundamental tenet of olfactory foraging that nutritional desirability influences rates of improvement in odour discrimination, enabling nutritious but camouflaged prey to be located with increasing efficiency.
Electronic supplementary material is available online at http://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.3662114.
- Received November 28, 2016.
- Accepted December 21, 2016.
- © 2017 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.