Complex Predator-Prey Behaviour Quantified with an Imaging Sonar


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Authors: Nils Olav Handegard, Kevin M. Boswell, Christos C. Ioannou, Simon P. Leblanc, Dag B. Tjostheim, Iain D. Couzin

The Dynamics of Coordinated Group Hunting and Collective Information Transfer among Schooling Prey

This recent paper in Current Biology shows not only the incredible amount of information available from imaging sonar, but also the future of scientific communication.

- We develop a new sonar technique to track fine-scale predator-prey interactions
- We quantify information transfer and collective response in the field
- Predation is associated with reduced information transfer in prey schools

Predator-prey interactions are vital to the stability of many ecosystems [1]. Yet, few studies have considered how they are mediated due to substantial challenges in quantifying behavior over appropriate temporal and spatial scales. Here, we employ high-resolution sonar imaging to track the motion and interactions among predatory fish and their schooling prey in a natural environment. In particular, we address the relationship between predator attack behavior and the capacity for prey to respond both directly and through collective propagation of changes in velocity by group members [2,3,4,5,6]. To do so, we investigated a large number of attacks and estimated per capita risk during attack and its relation to the size, shape, and internal structure of prey groups. Predators were found to frequently form coordinated hunting groups, with up to five individuals attacking in line formation. Attacks were associated with increased fragmentation and irregularities in the spatial structure of prey groups, features that inhibit collective information transfer among prey. Prey group fragmentation, likely facilitated by predator line formation, increased (estimated) per capita risk of prey, provided prey schools were maintained below a threshold size of approximately 2 m2. Our results highlight the importance of collective behavior to the strategies employed by both predators and prey under conditions of considerable informational constraints.

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