Many eyes or many ewes: vigilance tactics in female bighorn sheep Ovis canadensis vary according to reproductive status


  • Guillaume Rieucau,

  • Julien G. A. Martin

G. Rieucau (, Dépt des Sciences Biologiques, Univ. du Québec à Montréal, CP 8888, Succ. Centre-ville, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3C 3P8. – J. G.A. Martin, Dépt de Biologie, Univ. de Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, Québec, Canada, J1K 2R1, and Centre d’études Nordiques, Pavillon Abitibi-Price, local 1202, Univ. Laval, Québec, Québec, Canada, G1K 7P4.


In gregarious animals, there is usually a negative relationship between individual vigilance and group size. This effect of group size is generally explained by increasing probability of predator detection (the many-eyes hypothesis) and by the dilution of risk occurring in larger groups. Few studies have attempted to examine the specific implications of either hypothesis on the expected vigilance pattern of an animal. Here we examine whether reproductive status affects vigilance patterns in bighorn sheep Ovis canadensis ewes. We also test whether the observed vigilance patterns are consistent with predictions from dilution or detection models of vigilance. Although vigilance decreased with increasing group size, vigilance tactics differed between barren and lactating females. Lactating ewes relied solely on predator detection. In contrast, barren ewes benefited from both detection and dilution effects when group size increased and adjusted vigilance effort according to the proportion of lactating ewes in their group. It is generally assumed that gregariousness increases safety. Here we further show that reproductive status influenced how animals reduce predation risk and that some individuals take advantage of the vigilance effort provided by others.