Animals adjust behaviors to balance changes in predation risk against other vital needs. Animals must therefore collect sensory information and use a complex risk-assessment process that estimates risks and weighs costs and benefits entailed in different reactions. Studying this cognitive process is challenging, especially in nature, because it requires inferring sensory abilities and conscious decisions from behavioral reactions. Our goal was to address this empirical challenge by implementing psychophysical principles to field research that explores considerations used by desert isopods (Hemilepistus reau-muri) to assess the risk of scorpions that hunt exclusively from within their burrows. We introduced various combinations of chemical and physical cues to the vicinity of isopod burrows and recorded their detailed reactions on first encountering the cues. The isopods reacted defensively to scorpion odor but only when accompanied with excavated soil or other odors typically found near scorpion burrows. Isopods also reacted defensively to piles of excavated soil without scorpion olfactory cues, suggesting that isopods take precautions even against physical disturbances that do not necessarily reflect predator activity. Simultaneous presence of different cues provoked graded responses, possibly reflecting an additive increase in risk estimation. We conclude that wild isopods use defensive reactions toward environmental signals only when the integrated perceptual information implies an active scorpion burrow or when they lack data to refute this possibility.
Bibliographical notePublisher Copyright:
© 2018 by The University of Chicago.
- Desert isopods
- Escape behavior
- Predation risk
- Predator-prey interactions
- Risk assessment
- Risk-allocation hypothesis