Animal communication of fear and safety related to foraging behavior and fitness: An individual-based modeling approach

Sourodeep Bhattacharjee, Brian MacPherson, Ranxiao Frances Wang, Robin Gras

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Animal communication impacts many kinds of behavior including mating and courtship, escaping from predators and foraging activity. In this article, our investigation focuses primarily on how alarm communication impacts foraging activity, using individual based computer simulations. We used this approach to help resolve a debate in the literature between the risk-allocation hypothesis, which predicts that over time, animals become habituated to alarm communication versus the hypothesis that alarm communication consistently decreases foraging activity to avoid predators. We found that in most cases, alarm communication did indeed decrease foraging activity whereas in other cases, alarm communication resulted in habituation and a gradual increase in foraging activity, suggesting that there is some truth to both hypotheses. Moreover, it is possible that a decrease in foraging as well as habituation in response to alarm communication both contribute to fitness, or more generally, that alarm communication contributes to fitness as opposed to non-communication. Among the communication runs, we found that although there were higher levels of fitness compared with non-communication runs, fitness was higher when communication results in decreased foraging activity vs. runs where communication results in increased foraging activity. Finally, we used a variational autoencoder based estimation of distribution algorithms in conjuction with C4.5 decision trees as a wrapper to discern the features that distinguish communication runs from non-communication runs. In general, communication runs tend to have relatively low population densities, whereas non-communication runs tend to have relatively high population densities, suggesting that the ability to communicate fear obviates the need for prey to stay in close proximity to one another in order to defend against predators. Also a high level of reproductive urgency was observed in individuals with communication ability when the level of fear of predators was low.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101011
JournalEcological Informatics
StatePublished - Nov 2019


  • Alarm communication
  • Foraging activity
  • Individual fitness
  • Machine learning
  • Non-communication
  • Population density
  • Risk-allocation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Ecological Modeling
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics
  • Applied Mathematics


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