Coordination and synchronisation of anti-predation vigilance in two crane species

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Much of the previous research on anti-predation vigilance in groups has assumed independent scanning for threats among group members. Alternative patterns that are based on monitoring the vigilance levels of companions can also be adaptive. Coordination of vigilance, in which foragers avoid scanning at the same time as others, should decrease the odds that no group member is alert. Synchronisation of vigilance implies that individuals are more likely to be vigilant when companions are already vigilant. While synchronisation will increase the odds that no one is vigilant, it may allow a better assessment of potential threats. We investigated temporal sequences of vigilance in family flocks consisting of two parents and at most two juveniles in two species of cranes in coastal China. We established whether the observed probability that at least one parent is alert was greater (coordination) or lower (synchronisation) than that predicted under the null hypothesis of independent vigilance. We documented coordination of vigilance in common cranes (Grus grus) foraging in an area with high potential for disturbance by people. We documented synchronisation of vigilance in red-crowned cranes (Grus japonensis) in the less but not in the more disturbed area. Coordination in small flocks leads to high collective vigilance but low foraging rates that may not be suitable in areas with low disturbance. We also argue that synchronisation should break down in areas with high disturbance because periods with low vigilance are riskier. Results highlight the view that temporal patterns of vigilance can take many forms depending on ecological factors. © 2011 Ge et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.




Ge, C., Beauchamp, G., & Li, Z. (2011). Coordination and synchronisation of anti-predation vigilance in two crane species. PLoS ONE, 6(10).

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