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How do predators decide to hunt in groups or alone?

Predators employ two main strategies in their quest for prey. Some hunt in groups and share the bounty. Others go solo, with hopes of a meal all for themselves.

It would seem a complex combination of ecological factors influence the dynamics of predation, but a team of scientists have found a way to simplify the sociology of the hunting party.

In a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE, a team of researchers from Princeton University and the Stockholm Resilience Centre have detailed a few rules of thumb to determine whether a predator is more likely to seek out cooperation or go it alone.

Scientists say their findings could be used to better understand the behavior of any group competing for limited resources, whether they be lions, day-traders or fishermen.

“This boils down to one central trade-off: the benefit of acquiring information about prey location, and the cost of sharing prey with other predators,” James Watson, a researcher at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, explained in a news release.

Watson and his research partners studied how the distribution of prey and the specifics of the hunt influenced the dynamics of both human and animal predators. Their analysis showed that the longer it takes to find the prey, and the longer it takes to harvest and consume the prey, the more likely a predator is to cooperate with others.

“Fishermen tend to share information about salmon or other migratory species,” Watson said. “But they’re more secretive and even territorial about fish stocks that remain more or less in the same place. In Scandinavia mushroom hunters are quite secretive about the location of wild mushrooms in forests, for example.”

Researchers also identified and calculated the three main factors that influence the rate of prey consumption by predators: how quickly prey move, how quickly scavengers and other predators find killed prey, and how quickly scavengers and other predators eat the prey after it’s found.

“A large buffalo takes a long time to consume, so over this time period, other predators might move in and share the meat,” Watson explained.

Watson and his colleagues are now working on the arithmetic that explains how different environments alter the cost-benefits of sharing information.

“We want to identify evolutionary stable strategies in social groups,” he added. “This will help us understand how animals, people and businesses collectively organize around resources.”

Credit: UPI

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