Group hunting within the Carnivora: physiological, cognitive and environmental influences on strategy and cooperation

Abstract

Cooperative hunting is believed to have important implications for the evolution of sociality and advanced cognitive abilities. Variation in the level of hunt organisation amongst species and how their cognitive, behavioural and athletic adaptations may contribute to observed patterns of cooperative hunting behaviour, however, are poorly understood. We, therefore, reviewed the literature for evidence of different levels of hunt organisation and cooperation in carnivorans and examined their social and physical adaptations for hunting. Descriptions of group hunting were scarce for many species and often of insufficient detail for us to be able to classify the level of hunt organisation involved. However, despite this, reports of behaviour fitting the description of collaboration, the most advanced level of hunt organisation, were found in over half the carnivorans reported to hunt cooperatively. There was no evidence that this behaviour would require advanced cognitive abilities. However, there was some evidence that both social mechanisms reducing aggression between group members and information transfer amongst individuals may aid cooperative hunting. In general, the cooperative strategies used seemed to depend partly on the species’ locomotor abilities and habitat. There was some evidence that individuals take on consistent roles during cooperative hunts in some species, but it was not clear if this reflects individuals’ physical differences, social factors or life experiences. Better understanding of the social, cognitive and physical mechanisms underlying cooperative hunting, and indeed establishing to what degree it exists in the first instance, will require more data for multiple individuals and species over many hunts.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank our funding body, EPSRC, Timothy West, Andrew King, Philip Bacon, Anna Wilson and anonymous reviewers for comments on earlier versions of the manuscript and Buzz Holling for permission to use a redrawn version of Fig. 5b from Prey capture by the African lion, 1976, published in Canadian Zoology.

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Correspondence to Ida Bailey.

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Communicated by P. M. Kappeler

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Online Resource 1

A summary of non-carnivoran species for which there are published accounts of intra-specific cooperative hunting of a target prey individual by two or more hunters. This is not an exhaustive list and does not include anecdotal/unpublished accounts that exist for additional species (PDF 101 kb)

Online Resource 2

Examples of studies reporting cooperative hunting behaviour for all species of carnivore for which such accounts could be found. The behaviour in these studies is classified according to the level of organisation of the hunt. Where many examples of cooperative hunting were available for a species, examples were selected to show a range of levels of hunt organisation including the highest level demonstrated. Species are in order of phylogenetic relatedness (Bininda-Emonds et al. 1999), with families separated by dark lines (PDF 128 kb)

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Bailey, I., Myatt, J.P. & Wilson, A.M. Group hunting within the Carnivora: physiological, cognitive and environmental influences on strategy and cooperation. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 67, 1–17 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-012-1423-3

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Keywords

  • Cooperation
  • Hunting
  • Carnivorans
  • Cognition
  • Locomotion
  • Sociality
  • Information transfer
  • GPS