School level structural and dynamic adjustments to risk promote information transfer and collective evasion in herring
Animal Behaviour
Vol 117
First page 69
Last page 98

Many large-scale animal groups have the ability to react in a rapid and coordinated manner to environmental perturbations or predators. Information transfer among organisms during such events is thought to confer important antipredator advantages. However, it remains unknown whether individuals in large aggregations can change the structural properties of their collective in response to higher predation risk, and if so whether such adjustments promote responsiveness and information transfer. We examined the role of risk perception on the schooling dynamics and collective evasions of a large herring, Clupea harengus, school (ca. 60 000 fish) during simulated-predator encounters in a sea cage. Using an echosounder, high-resolution imaging sonar and acoustic video analysis, we quantified swimming dynamics, collective reactions and the speed of the propagating waves of evasion induced by a mobile predator model. In the higher risk condition, fish swam faster, exhibited a stronger circular swimming pattern, and we found an increased correlation strength indicating that the school had a greater ability to collectively respond to a perturbation. When exposed to a simulated threat, collective evasions were stronger and behavioural change (evasion manoeuvres) propagated more quickly within the school under environmental conditions perceived as being more risky. Our results demonstrate that large schools make structural and behavioural adjustments in response to perceived risk in a way that improves collective information transfer, and thus responsiveness, during predator attacks.