Investigating the value of information-sharing in foragers

When should competitors work together? What are the benefits of information sharing in an uncertain environment? Choosing where to forage affects foraging success, especially in an environment where prey densities vary in time and space. This also holds for fishers.

Fishers spend generations learning about the best fishing locations and the time to go to specific locations, and are passing this knowledge on, for example, to their successors and family members. This has advantages because a fisher knows about the expected catch and disadvantages, because fishers can compete for locations when they exchange more information.

Modellers at Wageningen Marine Research are studying the impact of information sharing among fishers on catch success, in relation to the predictability of prey presence and possible competition among fishers. The developed mechanistic model is very basic by design. A mechanistic model allows researchers to better understand a complex system because they can examine the operation of the individual components and the way they are linked.

Progress (September 2022)

The first results show that as long as ships do not stand in the way of each other, it is always beneficial to share information, especially if prey distribution is reasonably stable and thus does not change too often. If the prey distribution hardly ever changes, information sharing will not yield results. If the prey distribution changes very often, sharing information is also of little value. After all, any information becomes immediately outdated. Under the assumption that ships get in each other's way (and therefore can catch less in busy locations), unpredictable prey always leads to a negative effect. All good locations are so crowded that competition makes them bad locations. In cases with competition and stable prey, sharing information does not affect the catch. The ‘value’ of information sharing depends on the context.


This case study can act as a blueprint for modelling other socio-ecological systems related to the use of ‘commons’, such as in farming and animal foraging. Adjustments are simple. The model can also be based on fixed groups where information is only shared with group members. These include family relationships for fishers but also, for example, bees that only share information within their hive population.