When is general wariness favored in avoiding multiple predators? (2012)

Author(s): Brilot BO, Nettle D, Whittingham MJ, Bateson M, Read JCA

  • : General Wariness and Multiple Predators

Abstract: Adaptive responses to predation are generally studied assuming only one predator type exists, but most prey species are depredated by multiple types. When multiple types occur, the optimal antipredator response level may be determined solely by the prob- ability of attack by the relevant predator: “specific responsiveness.” Conversely, an increase in the probability of attack by one predator type might increase responsiveness to an alternative predator type: “general wariness.” We formulate a mathematical model in which a prey animal perceives a cue providing information on the probability of two predator types being present. It can perform one of two evasive behaviors that vary in their suitability as a response to the “wrong” predator type. We show that general wariness is optimal when in- correct behavioral decisions have differential fitness costs. Counter- intuitively, difficulty in discriminating between predator types does not favor general wariness. We predict that where responses to pred- ator types are mutually exclusive (e.g., referential alarm-calling), spe- cific responsiveness will occur; we suggest that prey generalize their defensive responses based on cue similarity due to an assumption of response utility; and we predict, with relevance to conservation, that habituation to human disturbance should generalize only to pred- ators that elicit the same antipredator response as humans.

  • Short Title: General Wariness and Multiple Predators
  • Date: 01-06-2012
  • Journal: The American Naturalist
  • Volume: 179
  • Issue: 6
  • Pages: E180-E195
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication type: Article
  • Bibliographic status: Published

Keywords: multiple predators, general wariness, antipredator responses, referential alarm calls, human disturbance, predator generalization


Professor Melissa Bateson
Professor of Ethology

Professor Daniel Nettle
Professor of Behavioural Science

Professor Jennifer Read
Professor of Vision Science