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A multidimensional framework for studying social predation strategies


Social predation—the act of hunting and feeding with others—is one of the most successful life-history traits in the animal kingdom. Although many predators hunt and feed together, a diversity of mechanisms exist by which individuals forage socially. However, a comprehensive framework capturing this diversity is lacking, preventing us from better understanding cooperative forms of predation, and how such behaviours have evolved and been maintained over time. We outline a framework of social predation that describes five key behavioural dimensions: sociality, communication, specialization, resource sharing, and dependence. By reviewing examples of social predation, we demonstrate the strength of a multidimensional approach, highlighting key commonalities and differences among species, and informative cross-dimensional correlations. These patterns highlight different potential evolutionary pathways and end-points across a multidimensional social predation spectrum.

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Fig. 1: A multidimensional framework for studying social predation strategies.
Fig. 2: A multidimensional framework reveals both similarities and differences among taxa.


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We thank J. Graving for suggesting the use of t-SNE to visualize the clustering of data points, and for providing code for this. We also thank the Farine lab for input during conception of the framework, K. McMahon and F. Hilleman for acting as independent scorers, and R. Kurvers, J. Herbert-Read, G. Ruxton, A. Wilkins and R. Ydenberg for providing valuable feedback on previous versions of this manuscript. This work was funded by the Max Planck Society. S.D.J.L. received additional funding from the DAAD (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst).

Author information




S.D.J.L. conceived the original idea and collated all data used in analyses. S.D.J.L. and D.R.F. outlined the framework, conducted the statistical analyses, and wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Stephen D. J. Lang or Damien R. Farine.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Figures 1–3, Supplementary Tables 1–4, Supplementary References

Supplementary Data

The full dataset contains the scoring for 77 different animal groups using our framework (main text Figure 1) and scoring using frameworks by Boesch & Boesch (1989), Ellis (1993), and Bailey (2012). For several species, evidence was obtained from more than one source. A full species list with references for each Supplementary Dataset is included in Supplementary Table 4

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Lang, S.D.J., Farine, D.R. A multidimensional framework for studying social predation strategies. Nat Ecol Evol 1, 1230–1239 (2017).

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