An escape response is a rapid manoeuvre used by prey to evade predators. Performing this manoeuvre at greater speed, in a favourable direction, or from a longer distance have been hypothesized to enhance the survival of prey, but these ideas are difficult to test experimentally. We examined how prey survival depends on escape kinematics through a novel combination of experimentation and mathematical modelling. This approach focused on zebrafish (Danio rerio) larvae under predation by adults and juveniles of the same species. High-speed three-dimensional kinematics were used to track the body position of prey and predator and to determine the probability of behavioural actions by both fish. These measurements provided the basis for an agent-based probabilistic model that simulated the trajectories of the animals. Predictions of survivorship by this model were found by Monte Carlo simulations to agree with our observations and we examined how these predictions varied by changing individual model parameters. Contrary to expectation, we found that survival may not be improved by increasing the speed or altering the direction of the escape. Rather, zebrafish larvae operate with sufficiently high locomotor performance due to the relatively slow approach and limited range of suction feeding by fish predators. We did find that survival was enhanced when prey responded from a greater distance. This is an ability that depends on the capacity of the visual and lateral line systems to detect a looming threat. Therefore, performance in sensing, and not locomotion, is decisive for improving the survival of larval fish prey. These results offer a framework for understanding the evolution of predator–prey strategy that may inform prey survival in a broad diversity of animals.
Electronic supplementary material is available online at http://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.3729922.
- Received February 20, 2017.
- Accepted March 15, 2017.
- © 2017 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.