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Computer games for fish reveal why some prey lead and other consequences



  Computer games for fish reveal why some prey lead and others follow
Sticklebacks, which were used in the research. Credit: Alex Poll

For the first time, researchers have been revealing the development of various social roles in animal groups by examining how the fish animals target and attack groups of virtual prey. The study, led by the universities Bristol and Oxford and published today [Monday 1

5 April] in the journal PNAS found leaders in groups of animals more vulnerable to attack by predators.


Leadership provides both opportunities and risks. Fortune can favor the daring when it comes to leaders who influence group decisions on what to do and where to go next, but these individuals will also be the first to run into a danger that awaits.

Behavioral scientists have long suspected that leaders of animal groups are more vulnerable to predator attacks. This new research now provides the first experimental evidence to confirm this long-standing assumption.

By studying real predators attacking groups of virtual prey, Dr. Christos Ioannou and colleagues believe that the risk of an individual target group being heavily influenced by its relative position within a group. Prey leading from the front was more likely to be attacked by predators than supporters placed in safer positions towards the group's center.

The projected simulated groups of virtual switches on a 2-D surface at one end of an aquarium tank. For their exploded predators, virtual prey turned out to be irresistible because they mimic the trait of true prey such as Daphnia.

  Computer games for fish reveal why some prey lead and others follow
Sticklebacks, which were used in the research. Credit: University of Bristol

Dr. Christos Ioannou, speaker and NERC Fellow and the study's lead researcher at the Bristol Life Sciences School, said: "The main benefit of virtual prey is that their appearance and behavior can be precisely programmed. This helps overcome the constraints of previous observation studies in which differences in rooting position within a group is impossible to distinguish from other traits that may affect a person's risk of being attacked. "

The research also revealed a hierarchy of risks where isolated individuals were even more likely to be attacked than prey leads in front of the group. . Predators also timed their attacks to coincide with moments where more lonely prey had split from the group.

These findings are important for the development of leadership in animal groups. They suggest leaders can minimize predation risk by keeping followers close behind them. Natural choice should therefore favor leaders who limit their tendency to push towards a goal to preserve the unity of the group.

Dr. Ioannou, added: This work also highlights the striking insight into animal behaviors derived from experiments that combine real-life animals with virtual reality. "


Fish step up to look when predators are close


More Information:
Christos C. Ioannou et al., "Predator's virtual prey attack reveal costs and benefits of leadership," PNAS (2019). www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1816323116

Provided by
University of Bristol

Citation :
Computer game for fish reveals why some change lead and other consequences (2019, April 15)
retrieved April 16, 2019
from https://phys.org/news/2019-04-games-fish-uncover-prey.html

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