The temporal structure of feeding behavior

Bert J. Tolkamp, David J. Allcroft, Juan P. Barrio, Tobias A.G. Bley, Jennifer A. Howie, Troels B. Jacobsen, Colin A. Morgan, Diederik P.N. Schweitzer, Samantha Wilkinson, Martin P. Yeates, Ilias Kyriazakis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Citations (Scopus)


Meals have long been considered relevant units of feeding behavior. Large data sets of feeding behavior of cattle, pigs, chickens, ducks, turkeys, dolphins, and rats were analyzed with the aims of 1) describing the temporal structure of feeding behavior and 2) developing appropriate methods for estimating meal criteria. Longer (between-meal) intervals were never distributed as the negative exponential assumed by traditional methods, such as log-survivorship analysis, but as a skewed Gaussian, which can be (almost) normalized by log-transformation of interval lengths. Log-transformation can also normalize frequency distributions of within-meal intervals. Meal criteria, i.e., the longest interval considered to occur within meals, can be estimated after fitting models consisting of Gaussian functions alone or of one Weibull and one or more Gaussian functions to the distribution of log-transformed interval lengths. Nonuniform data sets may require disaggregation before this can be achieved. Observations from all species were in conflict with assumptions of random behavior that underlie traditional methods for criteria estimation. Instead, the observed structure of feeding behavior is consistent with 1) a decrease in satiety associated with an increase in the probability of animals starting a meal with time since the last meal and 2) an increase in satiation associated with an increase in the probability of animals ending a meal with the amount of food already consumed. The novel methodology proposed here will avoid biased conclusions from analyses of feeding behavior associated with previous methods and, as demonstrated, can be applied across a range of species to address questions relevant to the control of food intake.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)R378-R393
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Regulatory Integrative and Comparative Physiology
Issue number2
Publication statusPrint publication - 1 Aug 2011


  • Eating behavior
  • Log-survivorship
  • Meal criteria
  • Satiation
  • Satiety


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