Wednesday June 8, 2022

Neuroscience News

The study, published today in scientific journal PNAS, challenges the well-held theory that behaving unpredictably helps animals survive encounters with predators.

Instead of simply fleeing directly away from a predator, many prey species from across the animal kingdom choose to escape in a surprisingly wide range of directions. Scientists have long suspected that this unpredictability helps them evade capture by keeping predators guessing about the prey’s next move.

By studying how real predatory fish (blue acara cichlids) attack robotic prey, researchers from Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences were able to experimentally test this idea. Rather than confirming that unpredictable escape tactics are beneficial to prey, the new research suggests that predators can neutralize this strategy by flexibly adjusting their own behavior.

Like many real prey hiding from predators, the robotic prey started each experiment motionless, before eventually fleeing once the cichlid predator got too close. But unlike real prey, their escape direction could be programmed in advance.

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