PREDATOR VIGILANCE AND GROUP SIZE IN MAMMALS AND BIRDS: A CRITICAL REVIEW OF THE EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE

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Summary

One commonly cited benefit to animals that forage in groups is an increase in the probability of detecting a predator, and a decrease in the time spent in predator detection. A mathematical model (Pulliam 1973) predicts a negative relationship between group size and vigilance rates. Over fifty studies of birds and mammals report a negative correlation between group size and vigilance behaviour and most conclude that the relationship at least partly explains why individuals forage in groups. This review evaluates the strength of these conclusions based on their evidence. Those variables that may confound the relationship between vigilance and group size are outlined, and their control is assessed for each study. The variables I consider to be important include the density and type of food; competition between individuals; the proximity to both a safe place and the observer; the presence of predators; the visibility within the habitat; the composition of the group; the ambient temperature and the time of day. Based on these assessments, most of the studies fail to adequately demonstrate an unambiguous relationship between vigilance behaviour and group size. Nevertheless, many studies reveal interesting features of the relationship between vigilance and group size that should provide fruitful avenues for future research.

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