Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 30, Issue 3–4, pp 283–289 | Cite as

Vigilance and foraging substrate: anti-predatory considerations in a non-standard environment

  • Steven L. Lima


The commonly studied “standard” anti-predatory environment presents animals with spatially-distinct feeding sites and refuges from attack, neither of which necessarily obstructs predator detection. In contrast, tree-trunks provide animals with a markedly “non-standard” environment in which the foraging substrate itself may be a refuge from attack that unavoidably obstructs predator detection. Thus anti-predatory behavior in this environment should be influenced not only by a perceived risk of attack, but also by the nature of the refuge/foraging substrate itself. Downy woodpeckers (Picoides pubescens) are a common tree-trunk foraging animal, and an experimental analysis of their behavior suggests that they respond appropriately to their non-standard anti-predatory environment. In particular, anti-predatory vigilance varies strongly with changes in tree trunk diameter. Two modes of vigilance were apparent. In “stationary” vigilance, woodpeckers maintained the position of their feet while rotating their bodies side-to-side to peer around the trunk; “mobile” vigilance involved movement around the trunk itself. Both the frequency and angle of rotation of stationary vigilance increased with trunk diameter, as did the frequency of mobile vigilance. The woodpeckers also held their heads farther away from the trunk surface as diameter increased. All of these measures of vigilance increased under a greater perceived risk of predation. As might be expected given these results, downy woodpeckers avoided thick trunks; they did not, however, prefer the thinnest (least obstructive) available trunks. These preferences may reflect the influence of trunk diameter on thermo-ecological and/or anti-predator considerations not related to vigilance. Overall, this arboreal environment provides an unusual perspective on anti-predator decision-making with several implications for tree-trunk foraging animals in general.


Experimental Analysis Tree Trunk Trunk Diameter Feeding Site Stationary Vigilance 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Steven L. Lima
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Life SciencesIndiana State UniversityTerre HauteUSA

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