, Volume 36, Issue 6, pp 421-429

Groups confuse predators by exploiting perceptual bottlenecks: a connectionist model of the confusion effect

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Abstract

Aggregation is a well documented behaviour in a number of animal groups. The “confusion effect” is one mechanism thought to mitigate the success of predators feeding on gregarious prey and hence favour aggregation. An artificial neural network model of prey targeting is developed to explore the advantages prey species might derive through a tendency to group. The network illustrates how an abstract model of the computational mechanisms mediating the perception of prey position is able to show a degradation in performance as group size increases. The relationship between group size and predator confusion has a characteristic decreasing decelerating shape. Prey “oddity” is shown to reduce the impact of the confusion effect, thereby allowing predators to target prey more accurately. Hence shoaling behaviour is most profitable to the prey when prey phenotypes are visually indistinguishable to a predator. Futhermore it is shown that prey “oddity” is relatively more costly in large groups than in small groups and the implications for assortative schooling are discussed. Both the model and the results are intended to make the general point that cognitive constraints will limit the information that a nervous system can process at a number of different levels of neural organization.

Communicated by P. Pamilo