The effect of aggregation on visibility in open water.
Aggregation is a common life-history trait in open-water taxa. Qualitative understanding of how aggregation by prey influences their encounter rates with predators is critical for understanding pelagic predator-prey interactions and trophic webs. We extend a recently developed theory on underwater visibility to predict the consequences of grouping in open-water species in terms of increased visual detection of groups by predators. Our model suggests that enhanced visibility will be relatively modest, with maximum detection distance typically only doubling for a 100-fold increase in the number of prey in a group. This result suggests that although larger groups are more easily detected, this cost to aggregation will in many cases be dominated by benefits, especially through risk dilution in situations where predators cannot consume all members of a discovered group. This, in turn, helps to explain the ubiquity of grouping across a great variety of open-water taxa.
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