Predator Avoidance


For prey species to be successful, they must balance the conflicting demands of obtaining the resources necessary for survival while avoiding being killed by predators. This has a hierarchy of approaches that begins with avoiding dangerous (=predators) times and locations, using dangerous locations but adopting behaviours and tactics that assist prey in detecting predators first. If a predator detects them, they may also plan for this by staying in groups, thereby diluting the chance of being the individual that is killed or using coordinated group defence. Individuals may also employ toxins or specialised morphologies that deter a predator from attacking or assist in escape. Assuming that individual behaviour is not affected by the presence of parasites, prey may also escape predators after capture using specialised morphologies, and even ejecting limbs. Ultimately, captured prey may even try to attract other predators with the hope of escaping during the ensuing melee.

Key Concepts

  • Behavioural trade‚Äźoffs.
  • The role of predators in affecting habitat quality.
  • Costs and benefits of group living.
  • The role of antipredator morphology.
  • Batesian and Mullerian mimicry.
  • The impact of parasites and how they can modify behaviour.
  • Animal scaling, physics and its impact upon behaviour.
  • The ecological importance of predators.
  • Conservation ecology.

Keywords: risk of predation; fear; group benefits; anti predator morphology; foraging

Figure 1. The pathways by which predation can affect the population dynamics of prey. The restricted view of predation as only affecting mortality is illustrated by two black arrows linking predation to prey dynamics by the way of survival. The consequences of predator avoidance (also known as nonconsumptive effects) are illustrated in the yellow boxes and orange arrows. These boxes demonstrate that predator avoidance by the prey can reduce mortality rate but does so via energetic and physiological costs that will also impact prey population dynamics. The risk effects are illustrated by the blue arrows, with the likely feedbacks illustrated by grey arrows. Reproduced from Creel and Christianson © Elsevier.
Figure 2. The cascading impact that the removal of predators has upon a marine ecosystem. As (a) catch rates of largest sharks declined, (b) the population of one of their prey, the cownose ray, increased resulting in (c) declines in the catches of North Carolina bay scallops, presumably due to increased predation from the larger population of rays. Reproduced from Heithaus et al. © Elsevier.


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Dial KP, Greene E and Irschick DJ (2008) Allometry of behaviour. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 23: 394–401.

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Abrahams, Mark V, and Piersiak, Michael G(Sep 2016) Predator Avoidance. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0003660.pub2]