Selfish herd effects in aggregated caterpillars and their interaction with warning signals



Larval Lepidoptera gains survival advantages by aggregating, especially when combined with aposematic warning signals, yet reductions in predation risk may not be experienced equally across all group members. Hamilton's selfish herd theory predicts that larvae that surround themselves with their group mates should be at lower risk of predation, and those on the periphery of aggregations experience the greatest risk, yet this has rarely been tested. Here, we expose aggregations of artificial 'caterpillar' targets to predation from free-flying, wild birds to test for marginal predation when all prey are equally accessible, and for interaction between warning colouration and marginal predation. We find that targets nearer the centre of the aggregation survived better than peripheral targets and nearby targets isolated from the group. However, there was no difference in survival between peripheral and isolated targets. We also find that grouped targets survived better than isolated targets when both are aposematic, but not when they are non-signalling. To our knowledge, our data provide the first evidence to suggest that avian predators preferentially target peripheral larvae from aggregations, and that prey warning signals enhance predator avoidance of groups.
Date made available25 Mar 2024

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