Number of neighbors instead of group size significantly affects individual vigilance levels in large animal aggregations

Zhao, Jin-Ming; Nan, Lyu; Sun, Yuehua; Zhou, Li-Zhi

13 March 2019

The group size effect states that animals living in groups gain anti-predator benefits through reducing vigilance levels as group size increases. A basic assumption of group size effect is that all individuals are equally important for a focal individual, who may adjust its vigilance levels according to social information acquired from them. However, some studies have indicated that neighbors pose greater influences on an individual’s vigilance decisions than other group members, especially in large aggregations. Vigilance has also been found to be directed to both predators (anti-predation vigilance) and conspecifics (social vigilance). Central individuals might rely more on social vigilance than peripheral individuals. To test these hypotheses, we examined the effects of flock size, number of neighbors and position within a flock on vigilance and competition of greater white-fronted goose (Anser albifrons) that form large foraging flocks in winter, controlling the effects of other variables (group identity, winter period, and site). We found that individual vigilance levels were significantly affected by number of neighbors and position within a flock, whereas flock size showed no effect. Individuals devoted a large component of vigilance to nearby flock mates. Central individuals directed a relatively larger proportion of vigilance to monitor neighbors than peripheral ones, indicating that central individuals more relied on social information acquired from neighbors, possibly caused by the more blocked visual field of central individuals. Moreover, some social vigilance may function as conducting or preventing agonistic interactions since competition intensity was positively correlated with number of neighbors. Our study therefore demonstrate that the number of neighbors is more important than group size in determining individual vigilance in large animal groups. Further studies are still needed to unravel which neighbors pose greater influence on individual vigilance, and the factors that influence individuals to acquire information from their neighbors to adjust vigilance behaviors.

Doi
10.1111/jav.02065