The interaction between ambush predators, search patterns of herbivores, and aggregations of plants

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While predators benefit from spatial overlap with their prey, prey strive to avoid predators. I used an individual-based simulation comprising sit-and-wait predators, widely foraging herbivores, and plants, to examine the link between predator ambush location, herbivore movement, and plant aggregation. I used a genetic algorithm to reach the best strategies for all players. The predators could ambush herbivores either inside or outside plant patches. The herbivores could use movement of varying directionality levels, with a change in directionality following the detection of plants. When the predators were fixed outside plant patches, the herbivores were selected to use a directional movement before plant encounter followed by a tortuous movement afterwards. When predators were fixed inside patches, herbivores used a continuous directional movement. Predators maintained within-patch positions when the herbivores were fixed to use the directional-tortuous movement. The predator location inside patches led to higher plant aggregations, by changing the herbivore movement. Finally, I allowed half of the predators to search for herbivores and let them compete with sit-and-wait predators located inside plant patches. When plants were clumped and herbivores used a directional-tortuous movement, with a movement shift after plant detection, ambush predators had the highest success relative to widely foraging predators. In all other scenarios, widely foraging predators did much better than ambush predators. The findings from my simulation suggest a behavioral mechanism for several observed phenomena of predator-prey interactions, such as a shorter stay by herbivores in patches when predators ambush them nearby, and a more directional movement of herbivores in riskier habitats.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1246-1255
Number of pages10
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2021


  • area-restricted search
  • foraging mode
  • habitat selection
  • individual-based model
  • movement
  • optimal foraging
  • predator-prey behavioral game


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