Drivers of synchronized vigilance in wild boar groups

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There is a growing evidence that members of animal groups synchronize their vigilance behavior to minimize predation risk. Because synchronized vigilance deviates from the classical vigilance models, which assume independent scanning, it is important to understand when and why it occurs. We explored vigilance behavior of wild boar (Sus scrofa) in a population subject to spatial variation in human hunting risk and seasonal variation in food availability. Group members synchronized their vigilance behavior. We hypothesized that vigilance synchronization would be context dependent and the trade-off between energy gain and safety would shape the relationship between the degree of vigilance synchronization and group size. We predicted weaker synchronization in large groups under heavy predation risk, due to benefits of numerical dilution, and stronger synchronization in large groups when food is limiting, due to intense food competition. The degree of synchronization decreased with increasing group size in the area where human hunting added another risk factor to the natural predation, pointing at the safety benefits of vigilance synchrony for members of small groups and the role of human-induced risk in shaping vigilance synchrony. We found no relation between vigilance synchrony and group size in a food scarce, winter season. However, low levels of vigilance and its synchronization observed in winter indicated that energy gain was prioritized over safety. Thus, members of wild boar groups can adjust levels of vigilance and its synchronization depending on the forage-risk trade-off set by the ecological context.

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