How group size affects vigilance dynamics and time allocation patterns: The key role of imitation and tempo

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In the context of social foraging, predator detection has been the subject of numerous studies, which acknowledge the adaptive response of the individual to the trade-off between feeding and vigilance. Typically, animals gain energy by increasing their feeding time and decreasing their vigilance effort with increasing group size, without increasing their risk of predation (‘group size effect’). Research on the biological utility of vigilance has prevailed over considerations of the mechanistic rules that link individual decisions to group behavior. With sheep as a model species, we identified how the behaviors of conspecifics affect the individual decisions to switch activity. We highlight a simple mechanism whereby the group size effect on collective vigilance dynamics is shaped by two key features: the magnitude of social amplification and intrinsic differences between foraging and scanning bout durations. Our results highlight a positive correlation between the duration of scanning and foraging bouts at the level of the group. This finding reveals the existence of groups with high and low rates of transition between activies, suggesting individual variations in the transition rate, or ‘tempo’. We present a mathematical model based on behavioral rules derived from experiments. Our theoretical predictions show that the system is robust in respect to variations in the propensity to imitate scanning and foraging, yet flexible in respect to differences in the duration of activity bouts. The model shows how individual decisions contribute to collective behavior patterns and how the group, in turn, facilitates individual-level adaptive responses.




Michelena, P., & Deneubourg, J. L. (2011). How group size affects vigilance dynamics and time allocation patterns: The key role of imitation and tempo. PLoS ONE, 6(4).

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