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Prey aggregation is an effective olfactory predator avoidance strategy

Johannesen, Asa; Dunn, Alison M.; Morrell, Lesley J.


Asa Johannesen

Alison M. Dunn


Predator–prey interactions have a major effect on species abundance and diversity, and aggregation is a well-known anti-predator behaviour. For immobile prey, the effectiveness of aggregation depends on two conditions: (a) the inability of the predator to consume all prey in a group and (b) detection of a single large group not being proportionally easier than that of several small groups. How prey aggregation influences predation rates when visual cues are restricted, such as in turbid water, has not been thoroughly investigated. We carried out foraging (predation) experiments using a fish predator and (dead) chironomid larvae as prey in both laboratory and field settings. In the laboratory, a reduction in visual cue availability (in turbid water) led to a delay in the location of aggregated prey compared to when visual cues were available. Aggregated prey suffered high mortality once discovered, leading to better survival of dispersed prey in the longer term. We attribute this to the inability of the dead prey to take evasive action. In the field (where prey were placed in feeding stations that allowed transmission of olfactory but not visual cues), aggregated (large groups) and semi-dispersed prey survived for longer than dispersed prey—including long termsurvival. Together, our results indicate that similar to systems where predators hunt using vision, aggregation is an effective anti-predator behaviour for prey avoiding olfactory predators.


Johannesen, A., Dunn, A. M., & Morrell, L. J. (in press). Prey aggregation is an effective olfactory predator avoidance strategy. PeerJ, 2014(1), 1-16.

Acceptance Date May 10, 2014
Online Publication Date May 27, 2014
Deposit Date Apr 13, 2015
Publicly Available Date Apr 13, 2015
Journal PeerJ
Electronic ISSN 2167-8359
Publisher PeerJ
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 2014
Issue 1
Pages 1-16
Keywords Animal behaviour, Ecology, Marine biology, Olfaction, Aggregation, Predator–prey interactions, Stickleback, Gasterosteus aculeatus, Prey detection
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Copy of article originally published: PeerJ, 2014, 2:e408


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