How does the presence of a conspecific individual change the behavioral game that a predator plays with its prey?

Reut Vardi*, Zvika Abramsky, Burt P. Kotler, Ofir Altstein, Michael L. Rosenzweig

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Behavioral games predators play among themselves may have profound effects on behavioral games predators play with their prey. We studied the behavioral game between predators and prey within the framework of social foraging among predators. We tested how conspecific interactions among predators (little egret) change the predator–prey behavioral game and foraging success. To do so, we examined foraging behavior of egrets alone and in pairs (male and female) in a specially designed aviary consisting of three equally spaced pools with identical initial prey (comet goldfish) densities. Each pool was comprised of a risky microhabitat, rich with food, and a safe microhabitat with no food, forcing the fish to trade off food and safety. When faced with two versus one egret, we found that fish significantly reduced activity in the risky habitat. Egrets in pairs suffered reduced foraging success (negative intraspecific density dependence) and responded to fish behavior and to their conspecific by changing their visiting regime at the different pools—having shorter, more frequent visits. The time egret spent on each visit allowed them to match their long-term capture success rate across the environment to their capture success rate in the pool, which satisfies one aspect of optimality. Overall, egrets in pairs allocated more time for foraging and changed their foraging tactics to focus more on fish under cover and fish ‘peeping’ out from their shelter. These results suggest that both prey and predator show behavioral flexibility and can adjust to changing conditions as needed in this foraging game.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)597-607
Number of pages11
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Conspecific interactions
  • Foraging behavior
  • Predator density
  • Predator–prey interactions
  • Time allocation


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