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The confusion effect--from neural networks to reduced predation risk

C.C. Ioannou, C.R. Tosh, L. Neville and J. Krause

Behavioral Ecology, 2008, vol. 19, issue 1, 126-130

Abstract: The confusion effect is often cited as an antipredatory benefit of group living and has been demonstrated by numerous studies across a range of taxa. However, there have been relatively few studies examining the mechanisms behind the effect and no experimental test of its supposed theoretical basis (information degradation in neural networks) using a natural predator--prey pairing. In agreement with other studies, we demonstrate that attack success of the three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus L.) is reduced by an increase in Daphnia magna group size. Neural network models attempt to explain this trend with multiple prey inducing poor neural mapping of target prey, thus leading to an increase in the spatial error of each attack. We explicitly tested this prediction and demonstrate that the decrease in attack success by sticklebacks does correspond to an increase in spatial targeting error with larger prey group size. Finally, we show that the number of targets, rather than the density or area occupied by the group, has the greatest effect on reducing the rate of attack. These results are discussed in the context of the information processing constraints of predators, the ultimate cause of the confusion effect. Copyright 2008, Oxford University Press.

Date: 2008
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