Exploring the coevolution of predator and prey morphology and behavior
Randal S. Olson, Arend Hintze, Fred C. Dyer, Jason H. Moore, Christoph Adami
A common idiom in biology education states, “Eyes in the front, the animal hunts. Eyes on the side, the animal hides.” In this paper, we explore one possible explanation for why predators tend to have forward-facing, high-acuity visual systems. We do so using an agent-based computational model of evolution, where predators and prey interact and adapt their behavior and morphology to one another over successive generations of evolution. In this model, we observe a coevolutionary cycle between prey swarming behavior and the predator’s visual system, where the predator and prey continually adapt their visual system and behavior, respectively, over evolutionary time in reaction to one another due to the well-known “predator confusion effect.” Furthermore, we provide evidence that the predator visual system is what drives this coevolutionary cycle, and suggest that the cycle could be closed if the predator evolves a hybrid visual system capable of narrow, high-acuity vision for tracking prey as well as broad, coarse vision for prey discovery. Thus, the conflicting demands imposed on a predator’s visual system by the predator confusion effect could have led to the evolution of complex eyes in many predators.