Confuse a Predator? That’s a Smart Idea

Swarming is common in many animals, but exactly how and why this behavior might have evolved is unclear. Because studying the intricacies of swarming behavior in the wild is incredibly complex, a multi-disciplinary team of BEACONites developed a computational model to test just one element of how swarming may have arisen: through predator confusion.

Predator confusion is a simply a strategy to avoid being eaten: if a predator is confused by lots of action, or the blending of body shapes between prey, for example, each prey animal stands a better chance of surviving and avoiding attack.

In their model, predators and prey continuously interacted and were selected for evolved survival-enhancing behaviors. After repeating this many different times, lead author Randy Olson and colleagues found that “….swarming evolved as a defense to exploit the predator confusion effect. Rather than seeing just one or two prey when the predators attack, which is what happens when prey scatter, swarming makes the predators see many prey, which confuses them and allows more prey to survive.”

The team is excited about this finding, as it brings them ever-closer to their ultimate goal of understanding the evolution of how intelligence evolved in nature.

“Swarming is a complex behavioral trait that increases the chance for survival,” co-author Chris Adami said. “Intelligence is an even more complex trait that also increases the chance for survival, so understanding one will help us understand the other.”

Find it online to read more: Olson RS, Hintze A, Dyer FC,. Knoester DB, Adami C. (2013) Predator confusion is sufficient to evolve swarming behavior. Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

[This is reposted entry from my work with the BEACONBuzz]

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