State of emergency: Behavior of gerbils is affected by the hunger state of their predators Academic Article uri icon


  • Predator–prey interactions are usually composed of behaviorally sophisticated games in which the values of the strategies of foraging prey individuals may depend on those of their predators, and vice versa. Therefore, any change in the behavior of the predator should result in changes to the behavior of the prey. However, this key prediction has rarely been tested. To examine the effects of the predator state on prey behavior, we manipulated the state of captive Barn Owls, Tyto alba, and released them into an enclosure containing Allenby's gerbils, Gerbillus andersoni allenbyi, a common prey of the owls. The owls were significantly more active when hungry. In response, the gerbils altered their behavior according to the state of the owl. When the owl was hungry, the gerbils visited fewer food patches, foraged in fewer patches, and harvested less food from each patch. Moreover, the gerbils kept their foraging bouts closer to their burrow, which reduced the overlap among foraging ranges of individual gerbils. Thus, changes in the state of the predator affect the foraging behavior of its prey and can also mediate competition among prey individuals.

publication date

  • January 1, 2010