Factors affecting vigilance in springbok: importance of vegetative cover, location in herd, and herd size
Vigilance in vertebrates is often inversely related to group size. We present evidence that distance to bushes and location within the herd are also critical factors in vigilance in springbok (Antidorcas marsupialis) in Etosha National Park, Namibia, where they are the preferred prey of cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus). Most springbok feed in heterospecific herds, both by grazing on grass and browsing on bushes. We studied 1245 animals; variations in vigilance (time alert) were explained by location within the herd, distance to bushes and roads, number of springbok in each herd, and gender and age. Vigilance time decreased with increasing herd size, with increasing distance to bushes and roads, and with density. Springbok on the edge of herds devoted significantly more time to vigilance than did those in other locations, and vigilance in edge animals decreased with group size. Adults were more vigilant than young, and males were more vigilant than females. Position within the herd, and distance from bushes, were the most important variables influencing vigilance. Location in the herd and gender/age affected both browsing and grazing springbok, although other factors accounted for the differences in vigilance between browsing and grazing springbok: 1) group size was not significant for browsers, but it was for grazers, and 2) distances to bushes and road were not significant for browsers, but they were for grazers. These data relate to the risk from predators and the benefits from other group members. Springbok in bushes cannot see all members of the herd, cannot derive early warning from many group members, and are more at risk from predators because the latter can hide in the bushes.
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