Outrun or Outmaneuver: Predator-Prey Interactions as a Model System for Integrating Biomechanical Studies in a Broader Ecological and Evolutionary Context

Integr Comp Biol. 2015 Dec;55(6):1188-97. doi: 10.1093/icb/icv074. Epub 2015 Jun 27.


Behavioral studies performed in natural habitats provide a context for the development of hypotheses and the design of experiments relevant both to biomechanics and to evolution. In particular, predator-prey interactions are a model system for integrative study because success or failure of predation has a direct effect on fitness and drives the evolution of specialized performance in both predator and prey. Although all predators share the goal of capturing prey, and all prey share the goal of survival, the behavior of predators and prey are diverse in nature. This article presents studies of some predator-prey interactions sharing common predation strategies that reveal general principles governing the behaviors of predator and prey, even in distantly related taxa. Studies of predator-prey interactions also reveal that maximal performance observed in a laboratory setting is not necessarily the performance that determines fitness. Thus, considering locomotion in the context of predation ecology can aid in evolutionarily relevant experimental design. Classification by strategy reveals that displaying unpredictable trajectories is a relevant anti-predator behavior in response to multiple predation strategies. A predator's perception and pursuit of prey can be affected indirectly by divergent locomotion of similar animals that share an ecosystem. Variation in speed and direction of locomotion that directly increases the unpredictability of a prey's trajectory can be increased through genetic mutation that affects locomotor patterns, musculoskeletal changes that affect maneuverability, and physical interactions between an animal and the environment. By considering the interconnectedness of ecology, physical constraints, and the evolutionary history of behavior, studies in biomechanics can be designed to inform each of these fields.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Ecosystem*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Predatory Behavior / physiology*
  • Running*