Effects of predator avoidance behavior on the coexistence of competing prey

Pacifica Sommers, Peter Chesson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Predator avoidance behavior, in which prey limit foraging activities in the presence of predation threats, affects the dynamics of many ecological communities. Despite the growing theoretical appreciation of the role predation plays in coexistence, predator avoidance behavior has yet to be incorporated into the theory in a general way. We introduce adaptive avoidance behavior to a consumer-resource model with three trophic levels to ask whether the ability of prey—the middle trophic level—to avoid predators alters their ability to coexist. We determine the characteristics of cases in which predator avoidance behavior changes prey coexistence or the order of competitive dominance. The mechanism underlying such changes is the weakening of apparent competition relative to resource competition in determining niche overlap, even with resource intake costs. Avoidance behavior thus generally promotes coexistence if prey partition resources but not predators, whereas it undermines coexistence if prey partition predators but not resources. For any given case, the changes in the average fitness difference between two species resulting from avoidance behavior interact with changes in niche overlap to determine coexistence. These results connect the substantial body of theoretical work on avoidance behavior and population dynamics with the body of theory on competitive coexistence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E132-E148
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2019


  • Antipredator
  • Coexistence
  • Competition
  • Nonconsumptive effect
  • Predation
  • Predator avoidance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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