Prey aggregation is an effective olfactory predator avoidance strategy

Asa Johannesen, Alison M. Dunn, Lesley J. Morrell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


Predator–prey interactions have a major effect on species abundance and diversity, and aggregation is a well-known anti-predator behaviour. For immobile prey,
the effectiveness of aggregation depends on two conditions: (a) the inability of the
predator to consume all prey in a group and (b) detection of a single large group not
being proportionally easier than that of several small groups. How prey aggregation
influences predation rates when visual cues are restricted, such as in turbid water, has
not been thoroughly investigated. We carried out foraging (predation) experiments
using a fish predator and (dead) chironomid larvae as prey in both laboratory and
field settings. In the laboratory, a reduction in visual cue availability (in turbid water)
led to a delay in the location of aggregated prey compared to when visual cues were
available. Aggregated prey suffered high mortality once discovered, leading to better
survival of dispersed prey in the longer term. We attribute this to the inability of
the dead prey to take evasive action. In the field (where prey were placed in feeding
stations that allowed transmission of olfactory but not visual cues), aggregated (large
groups) and semi-dispersed prey survived for longer than dispersed prey—including
long term survival. Together, our results indicate that similar to systems where predators hunt using vision, aggregation is an effective anti-predator behaviour for prey
avoiding olfactory predators.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere408
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Olfaction
  • Aggregation
  • Predator–prey interactions
  • Stickleback
  • Gasterosteus aculeatus
  • Prey detection


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