Why some animals eat only one type of food

March 24th, 2009 - 1:05 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, mar 24 (ANI): Seeing a huge restaurant menu usually makes us choose an old favourite instead of trying something new. Now, scientists have claimed that, when overloaded with information, other animals too display such behaviour.

Researchers from University of Leeds used computer modelling to examine the evolution of specialisation, and have shed light on why some animal species have evolved to eat one particular type of food.

“This is a major leap forward in our understanding of the way in which animals interact with their environment. Our computer models show the way in which neural networks operate in different environments. They have made it possible for us to see how different species make decisions, based on what’’s happening or in this case, which foods are available - around them,” said lead researcher Dr Colin Tosh from the University’’s Faculty of Biological Sciences.

Till date, not much is known about such specialisation in eating habits, despite its prevalence the animal kingdom.

The study conducted at Leeds has provided strong evidence in support of the ”neural limitations” hypothesis put forward by academics in the 1990s.

The hypothesis, derived from human psychology, is based on the concept of information overload.

“There are several hypotheses to explain specialisation: one suggests that animals adapt to eat certain foods and this prevents them from eating other types of food,” said Tosh.

He added: “For example, cows have evolved flat teeth which allow them to chew grass but they are unable to efficiently process meat. However, the problem with these hypotheses is that they don”t apply across the board. Some species such as many plant eating insects have evolved to specialise even though there are many other available foods they could eat perfectly well.”

The study is the first to provide a realistic representation of neural information processing in animals and how these interact with their environment.

According to the researchers it could also have major implications for predicting the effects of environmental change.

“A good example of a struggling specialist is the giant panda, which relies on high mountain bamboo. In understanding how neural processes work, we may be able to gain an insight into how future environmental conditions such as the dying out of particular types of plants - may affect a range of different animal species that utilise them for food,” said Tosh. (ANI)

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