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Data from: Visual obstruction and vigilance: a natural experiment

Cite this dataset

Beauchamp, Guy (2015). Data from: Visual obstruction and vigilance: a natural experiment [Dataset]. Dryad.


Visual obstructions can cause an increase in antipredator vigilance in prey animals by making predator detection more difficult. However, visual obstructions can also skew the perception of group size and inter-individual distances and impair the detection of alarm signals by conspecifics. These changes within the group alone can cause an increase in vigilance. To disentangle the contribution of these various factors to changes in vigilance, I documented vigilance in a gregarious species, the semipalmated sandpiper Calidris pusilla, foraging in a habitat where a naturally-occurring visual barrier partially prevented predator detection without altering the transfer of information about predation risk within the group. I used a matched sampling design to collect vigilance data for birds using adjacent areas with and without the visual barrier. In the visually-obstructed area, sandpipers maintained a higher level of vigilance, occurred farther away from cover and in smaller flocks, and preferentially scanned the area of danger with one eye in particular. All these changes suggest that visual obstruction increased perceived predation risk. I conclude that it is the inability to get a good view of any approaching predator, rather than changes in intra-group communication that caused the increase in vigilance in the visually-obstructed area.

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Bay of Fundy