Theoretical Ecology

, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp 255–267 | Cite as

Evolutionary ecology of movement by predators and prey

  • Samuel M. FlaxmanEmail author
  • Yuan Lou
  • François G. Meyer
Original Paper


An essential key to explaining the mechanistic basis of ecological patterns lies in understanding the consequences of adaptive behavior for distributions and abundances of organisms. We developed a model that simultaneously incorporates (a) ecological dynamics across three trophic levels and (b) evolution of behaviors via the processes of mutation, selection, and drift in populations of variable, unique individuals. Using this model to study adaptive movements of predators and prey in a spatially explicit environment produced a number of unexpected results. First, even though predators and prey had limited information and sometimes moved in the “wrong” direction, evolved movement mechanisms allowed them to achieve average spatial distributions approximating optimal, ideal free distributions. Second, predators’ demographic parameters had marked, nonlinear effects on the evolution of movement mechanisms in the prey: As the predator mortality rate was increased past a critical point, prey abruptly shifted from making very frequent movements away from predators to making infrequent movements mainly in response to resources. Third, time series analyses revealed that adaptive, conditional movements coupled ecological dynamics across species and space. Our results provide general predictions, heretofore lacking, about how predators and prey should respond to one another on both ecological and evolutionary time scales.


Predator–prey interactions Individual-based model Movements Ideal free distribution Conditional dispersal Migration 



We thank V. Křivan, P. Abrams, R. J. Safran, and an anonymous reviewer for feedback on manuscript drafts and participants of the Fields Institute Workshop on Adaptive Movement of Interacting Species for comments on an earlier version of the model. We thank R. J. Safran for use of computing equipment and W. Franz for logistical support. The research of YL was partially supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation. We also wish to thank Alan Hastings for organizing this special issue of Theoretical Ecology in honor of Simon Levin and in recognition of Simon’s vast and important contributions as a researcher, collaborator, and mentor.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Samuel M. Flaxman
    • 1
    Email author
  • Yuan Lou
    • 2
  • François G. Meyer
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of ColoradoBoulderUSA
  2. 2.Department of MathematicsThe Ohio State UniversityColumbusUSA
  3. 3.Department of Electrical, Computer, and Energy EngineeringUniversity of ColoradoBoulderUSA

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