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Consequences of variation in predator attack for the evolution of the selfish herd

Morrell, Lesley J.; Greenwood, Lottie; Ruxton, Graeme D.


Lottie Greenwood

Graeme D. Ruxton


There is a strong body of evidence that patterns of collective behaviour in grouping animals are governed by interactions between small numbers of individuals within the group. These findings contrast with study of the ‘selfish herd’, where increasingly complex individual-level movement rules have been proposed to explain the rapid increase in aggregation observed when prey groups are startled by or detect a predator. While individuals using simple rules take into account the position of only a few neighbours, those using complex rules incorporate multiple neighbours, and their relative distance, to determine their movement direction. Here, we simulate the evolution of selfish herd behaviour to assess the conditions under which simple and complex movement rules might evolve, explicitly testing predictions arising from previous work. We find that complex rules outperform simple ones under a range of predator attack strategies, but that simple rules can fix in populations particularly when they are already in the majority, suggesting strong positive frequency dependence in rule success. In addition, we explore whether a movement rule derived from studies of collective behaviour (where individuals use the position of seven neighbours to determine movement direction) performs as successfully as more complex rules, finding again positive frequency dependence in rule success, and a particular role for predator attack strategy (from within or outside the group).


Morrell, L. J., Greenwood, L., & Ruxton, G. D. (2015). Consequences of variation in predator attack for the evolution of the selfish herd. Evolutionary Ecology, 29(1), 107-121.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 30, 2014
Online Publication Date Nov 9, 2014
Publication Date 2015-01
Deposit Date Mar 24, 2015
Publicly Available Date Mar 24, 2015
Journal Evolutionary ecology
Print ISSN 0269-7653
Electronic ISSN 1573-8477
Publisher Springer Verlag
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 29
Issue 1
Pages 107-121
Keywords Aggregation; Group living; Anti-predator behaviour; Selfish herd
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Author's accepted manuscript of article published in: Evolutionary ecology, 2015, v.29, issue 1. The final publication is available at Springer via


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