Biology Publications

Modelling the fear effect in predator–prey interactions

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Journal of Mathematical Biology





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A recent field manipulation on a terrestrial vertebrate showed that the fear of predators alone altered anti-predator defences to such an extent that it greatly reduced the reproduction of prey. Because fear can evidently affect the populations of terrestrial vertebrates, we proposed a predator–prey model incorporating the cost of fear into prey reproduction. Our mathematical analyses show that high levels of fear (or equivalently strong anti-predator responses) can stabilize the predator–prey system by excluding the existence of periodic solutions. However, relatively low levels of fear can induce multiple limit cycles via subcritical Hopf bifurcations, leading to a bi-stability phenomenon. Compared to classic predator–prey models which ignore the cost of fear where Hopf bifurcations are typically supercritical, Hopf bifurcations in our model can be both supercritical and subcritical by choosing different sets of parameters. We conducted numerical simulations to explore the relationships between fear effects and other biologically related parameters (e.g. birth/death rate of adult prey), which further demonstrate the impact that fear can have in predator–prey interactions. For example, we found that under the conditions of a Hopf bifurcation, an increase in the level of fear may alter the direction of Hopf bifurcation from supercritical to subcritical when the birth rate of prey increases accordingly. Our simulations also show that the prey is less sensitive in perceiving predation risk with increasing birth rate of prey or increasing death rate of predators, but demonstrate that animals will mount stronger anti-predator defences as the attack rate of predators increases.