Nav: Home

Shrewd savannah species choose friends with benefits on the African plains

November 27, 2019

For species trying to boost their chances of avoiding predation, it could be a classic case of 'it's not what you know, it's who you know that matters,' according to new research.

Seeing groups of different wild animals hanging out together on the plains of Africa is not unusual, but why and how these social groups form has puzzled ecologists for many years.

For four years, a team of zoologists from the universities of Liverpool and York has been studying the formation of mixed groups of herbivore species on the African savannahs in Masai Mara, Kenya.

Their findings, published in Ecology Letters, show that herbivores seek out the company of species with the most informative alarm calls who can alert them to the threat of nearby predators.

"Often ecologists focus simply on the location of food and predators to understand how animals distribute themselves in nature, but we've shown that animals choose to live alongside other species who can provide them with valuable information, in this case about predation risk," explains University of Liverpool researcher Dr Jakob Bro-Jorgensen.

To carry out the study, the researchers created a theoretical model that predicts which combinations of characteristics cause species to join in mixed groups in a multi-species community. They then tested their model's predictions in a community-wide field study of African savannah herbivores using multi-layered network analysis.

In addition to informative alarm calls, vigilance and vulnerability were also found to be driving factors of social group formation. Species who are not themselves very vigilant were found to be more likely to join mixed groups, presumably to compensate for their lower ability to spot predators. Similarly, species deemed to be more vulnerable to predators were also more likely to seek out the security provided by being in a mixed group.

Dr Jakob Bro-Jorgensen said: "Our study points to an intriguing complex social world where social relations between species range from mutually beneficial to parasitic.

"The impact of communication between species on social attraction and survival highlights the importance of taking behavioural links between species into account in order to understand how the natural world operates.

"This, in turn is crucial to uncovering how animal communities respond to current environmental changes and could help conservationists better predict the risk of extinction faced by endangered species who rely on information from others."
-end-
The research project was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council.

Research references

Alarm communication networks as a driver of community structure in African savannah herbivores, Ecology Letters, doi: 10.1111/ele.13432

University of Liverpool

Related Predators Articles:

Dragonflies are efficient predators
A study led by the University of Turku, Finland, has found that small, fiercely predatory damselflies catch and eat hundreds of thousands of insects during a single summer -- in an area surrounding just a single pond.
Predators to spare
In 2014, a disease of epidemic proportions gripped the West Coast of the US.
Red-winged blackbird nestlings go silent when predators are near
If you're a predator that eats baby birds -- say, an American crow -- eavesdropping on the begging calls of nestlings can be an easy way to find your next meal.
A decade after the predators have gone, Galapagos Island finches are still being spooked
On some of the Galapagos Islands where human-introduced predators of Darwin's finches were eradicated over a decade ago, the finches are still acting as though they are in danger, according to research published today in the Journal of Animal Ecology.
Fear of predators causes PTSD-like changes in brains of wild animals
A new study by Western University demonstrates that the fear predators inspire can leave long-lasting traces in the neural circuitry of wild animals and induce enduringly fearful behaviour, comparable to effects seen in PTSD research.
Fear of predators increases risk of illness
Predators are not only a deadly threat to many animals, they also affect potential prey negatively simply by being nearby.
New study questions effects of reintroducing top predators
There's little evidence that reintroducing top predators to ecosystems will return them to the conditions that existed before they were wiped out, according to new research.
'Seeing' tails help sea snakes avoid predators
New research has revealed the fascinating adaptation of some Australian sea snakes that helps protect their vulnerable paddle-shaped tails from predators.
How water fleas detect predators
Water fleas of the genus Daphnia detect via chemical substances if their predators, namely Chaoborus larvae, are hunting in their vicinity.
Predators drive Nemo's relationship with an unlikely friend
Predators have been identified as the shaping force behind mutually beneficial relationships between species such as clownfish and anemones.
More Predators News and Predators Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Teaching For Better Humans 2.0
More than test scores or good grades–what do kids need for the future? This hour, TED speakers explore how to help children grow into better humans, both during and after this time of crisis. Guests include educators Richard Culatta and Liz Kleinrock, psychologist Thomas Curran, and writer Jacqueline Woodson.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#556 The Power of Friendship
It's 2020 and times are tough. Maybe some of us are learning about social distancing the hard way. Maybe we just are all a little anxious. No matter what, we could probably use a friend. But what is a friend, exactly? And why do we need them so much? This week host Bethany Brookshire speaks with Lydia Denworth, author of the new book "Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life's Fundamental Bond". This episode is hosted by Bethany Brookshire, science writer from Science News.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Space
One of the most consistent questions we get at the show is from parents who want to know which episodes are kid-friendly and which aren't. So today, we're releasing a separate feed, Radiolab for Kids. To kick it off, we're rerunning an all-time favorite episode: Space. In the 60's, space exploration was an American obsession. This hour, we chart the path from romance to increasing cynicism. We begin with Ann Druyan, widow of Carl Sagan, with a story about the Voyager expedition, true love, and a golden record that travels through space. And astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson explains the Coepernican Principle, and just how insignificant we are. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.