Predator Fitness Increases with Selectivity for Odd Prey

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28 Citations (Scopus)


The fundamental currency of normative models of animal decision making is Darwinian fitness. In foraging ecology, empirical studies typically assess foraging strategies by recording energy intake rates rather than realized reproductive performance [1]. This study provides a rare empirical link, in a vertebrate predator-prey system, between a predator's foraging behavior and direct measures of its reproductive fitness. Goshawks Accipiter gentilis selectively kill rare color variants of their principal prey, the feral pigeon Columba livia, presumably because targeting odd-looking birds in large uniform flocks helps them overcome confusion effects and enhances attack success [2-4]. Reproductive performance of individual hawks increases significantly with their selectivity for odd-colored pigeons, even after controlling for confounding age effects. Older hawks exhibit more pronounced dietary preferences, suggesting that hunting performance improves with experience [5, 6]. Intriguingly, although negative frequency-dependent predation by hawks exerts strong selection against rare pigeon phenotypes [7], pigeon color polymorphism is maintained through negative assortative mating [8].

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)820-824
Number of pages5
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 8 May 2012


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