Effects of predation risk on group size, vigilance, and foraging behavior in an African ungulate community

Scott Creel, Paul Schuette, David Christianson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

191 Scopus citations


Predators alter prey dynamics by direct killing and through the costs of antipredator responses or risk effects. Antipredator behavior includes proactive responses to long-term variation in risk (e.g., grouping patterns) and reactive responses to short-term variation in risk (e.g., intense vigilance). In a 3-year field study, we measured variation in antipredator responses and the foraging costs of these responses for 5 ungulates (zebra, wildebeest, Grant's gazelle, impala, and giraffe) that comprised more than 90% of the prey community available to the 2 locally dominant predators, lions and spotted hyenas. Using a model-selection approach, we examined how vigilance and group size responded to attributes of the predator, prey, and environment. We found that 1) the strength of antipredator responses was affected by attributes of the predator, prey, and environment in which they met; 2) grouping and vigilance were complementary responses; 3) grouping was a proactive response to the use of dangerous habitats, whereas vigilance was a reactive response to finer cues about predation risk; 4) increased vigilance caused a large reduction in foraging for some species (but not all); and 5) there was no clear relationship between direct predation rates and the foraging costs of antipredator responses. Broadly, our results show that antipredator responses and their costs vary in a complex manner among prey species, the predators they face, and the environment in which they meet.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)773-784
Number of pages12
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • antipredator response
  • foraging
  • group size
  • risk effects
  • vigilance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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