Does an opportunistic predator preferentially attack non-vigilant prey?

Will Cresswell, J Lind, U Kaby, JL Quinn, S Jakobsson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Citations (Scopus)


The dilution effect as an antipredation behaviour is the main theoretical reason for grouping in animals and states that all individuals in a group have an equal risk of being predated if equally spaced from each other and the predator. Stalking predators, however, increase their chance of attack success by preferentially targeting nonvigilant individuals, potentially making relative vigilance rates in a group relatively important in determining predation compared with the dilution effect. Many predators, however, attack opportunistically without stalking, when targeting of nonvigilant individuals may be less likely, so that the dilution effect will then be a relatively more important antipredation reason for grouping. We tested whether an opportunistically hunting predator, the sparrowhawk, Accipiter nisus, preferentially attacked vigilant or feeding prey models presented in pairs. We found that sparrowhawks attacked vigilant and feeding mounts at similar frequencies. Our results suggest that individuals should prioritize maximizing group size or individual vigilance dependent on the type of predator from which they are at risk. When the most likely predator is a stalker, individuals should aim to have the highest vigilance levels in a group, and there may be relatively little selective advantage to being in the largest group. In contrast, if the most likely predator is an opportunist, then individuals should simply aim to be in the largest group and can also spend more time foraging without compromising predation risk. For most natural systems this will mean a trade-off between the two strategies dependent on the frequency of attack of each predator type. (C) 2003 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)643-648
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Publication statusPublished - 2003


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