Ecology Letters (2012)
A central explanation for group living across animal taxa is the reduced rate of attack by predators. However, many field observations show a weak or non-existent effect of group size on per capita mortality rates. Herein we resolve this apparent paradox. We found that Pieris brassicae larvae defended themselves less readily when in groups than when alone, in that they were more reluctant to regurgitate in response to simulated attacks and produced less regurgitant. Furthermore, a simple model demonstrates that this reluctance was sufficient to cancel out the benefit from being in a group. This conditional strategy can be understood in terms of the costs and benefits of defences. For grouped individuals, defence is less often required because attack rates are lower and the costs of defence may be higher due to competition for resources. These phenomena are likely to be widespread in facultatively gregarious species that utilise anti-predator defences.