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An Experiment On Spacing-Out as a Defence Against Predation

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The paper is concerned with the tracing of a selection pressure which would account for the fact (believed to be sufficiently well established) that individuals of many well-camouflaged species live further away from other individuals of their species than the distance from which even bird predators are able to detect them. Artificially camouflaged hens' eggs were laid out in plots of different densities. Wild Carrion Crows were attracted to each plot by a standard "sample egg" which, while painted in the same way as the other eggs on the uppermost half, was laid out in a more conspicuous way. In spite of the fact that the Crows spent more time searching in the "scattered" than in the "crowded" plots, the crowded eggs suffered a much higher mortality. It is concluded that even for individuals of a well-camouflaged species it must be of advantage to live further away from others than the Direct Detection Distance of their predators. However, the experiments do not show that a crowded population as a whole suffers higher predation than a scattered population; experiments to test this and other aspects of the problem are in progress. It is argued that the absolute values of the density dependent mortality scores of the experiments cannot be applied to natural populations, because their density will in most cases be determined by other ultimate factors as well.

Affiliations: 1: (Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, England

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