Scientists use robots to discover how predatory fish deal with unpredictable prey – ScienceDaily

Researchers at the University of Bristol have demonstrated how predators overcome the chaotic behavior of their victims by adapting their own while hunting.

The study, published today in a scientific journal PNASchallenges the well-established theory that unpredictable behavior helps animals survive encounters with predators.

Instead of simply fleeing directly from a predator, many species of prey from all over the animal kingdom choose to escape in a surprisingly wide range of directions. Scientists have long suspected that this unpredictability helps them avoid capture by making predators guess the next move of prey.

Studying how real predatory fish (blue cichlid mites) attack robotic prey, researchers at the Bristol School of Biological Sciences were able to test this idea experimentally. Instead of confirming that unpredictable escape tactics are beneficial to prey, new research suggests that predators can neutralize this strategy by flexibly adjusting their own behavior.

Like very real prey hiding from predators, robotic prey began each experiment motionless before finally escaping after the cichlid predator got too close. But unlike real prey, their escape route can be pre-programmed. This key feature of the design allowed researchers to change how predictable the direction of escape of the prey was in a series of interactions with predators.

Lead author Dr Andrew Shopa-Comley explained: “The use of robotic prey has allowed us to introduce individual predators to one of two prey escape strategies: a ‘predictable’ prey that repeatedly runs in the same direction from interacting with the predator. to the next, or “an unpredictable prey that escapes in random directions.”

Predators facing predictable prey adjusted their approach speed according to the direction of the victim’s escape, walking faster when the prey was aimed directly at them and slower if the prey was running away. This correction occurred before the prey even began to escape, suggesting that predators were able to predict the behavior of the prey based on their experience from previous interactions. In contrast, individual predators facing unpredictable prey did not adjust their approach speed to match the prey’s escape angle.

And yet, surprisingly, throughout the chase, predators facing unpredictable prey perform just as well as those who hunt for unpredictable prey. Although deprived of reliable information about the likely direction of escape of the prey, predators facing unpredictable prey managed to compensate by accelerating more in the later stages of the pursuit.

Senior author Dr. Christos Ioannou, associate professor of behavioral ecology, commented: “Our results suggest that the predators in our study were able to overcome the potential shortcomings of confronting prey that behaves unpredictably. In terms of loot, this raises the question of whether unpredictable behavior is as widely useful as originally thought. “

These findings are potentially significant for the evolution of escape behavior. They suggest that the predator’s behavioral characteristics, including its ability to resist, may be crucial in determining whether unpredictability is beneficial to prey.

Dr Shopa-Komli added: “One of the key messages of our study is that predators are able to dynamically correct their behavior in a way that can have dramatic consequences for the success of prey survival strategies.”

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Materials provided by University of Bristol. Note: Content can be edited for style and length.

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