U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service



Ryan B. Lunn https://orcid.org/0000-0001-9998-3200

Date of this Version



Lunn RB, Blackwell BF, DeVault TL, Ferna´ndez-Juricic E (2022) Can we use antipredator behavior theory to predict wildlife responses to high-speed vehicles? PLoS ONE 17(5): e0267774. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal. pone.0267774


The work is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication.


Animals seem to rely on antipredator behavior to avoid vehicle collisions. There is an extensive body of antipredator behavior theory that have been used to predict the distance/time animals should escape from predators. These models have also been used to guide empirical research on escape behavior from vehicles. However, little is known as to whether antipredator behavior models are appropriate to apply to an approaching high-speed vehicle scenario. We addressed this gap by (a) providing an overview of the main hypotheses and predictions of different antipredator behavior models via a literature review, (b) exploring whether these models can generate quantitative predictions on escape distance when parameterized with empirical data from the literature, and (c) evaluating their sensitivity to vehicle approach speed using a simulation approach wherein we assessed model performance based on changes in effect size with variations in the slope of the flight initiation distance (FID) vs. approach speed relationship. The slope of the FID vs. approach speed relationship was then related back to three different behavioral rules animals may rely on to avoid approaching threats: the spatial, temporal, or delayed margin of safety. We used literature on birds for goals (b) and (c). Our review considered the following eight models: the economic escape model, Blumstein’s economic escape model, the optimal escape model, the perceptual limit hypothesis, the visual cue model, the flush early and avoid the rush (FEAR) hypothesis, the looming stimulus hypothesis, and the Bayesian model of escape behavior. We were able to generate quantitative predictions about escape distance with the last five models. However, we were only able to assess sensitivity to vehicle approach speed for the last three models. The FEAR hypothesis is most sensitive to high-speed vehicles when the species follows the spatial (FID remains constant as speed increases) and the temporal margin of safety (FID increases with an increase in speed) rules of escape. The looming stimulus effect hypothesis reached small to intermediate levels of sensitivity to high-speed vehicles when a species follows the delayed margin of safety (FID decreases with an increase in speed). The Bayesian optimal escape model reached intermediate levels of sensitivity to approach speed across all escape rules (spatial, temporal, delayed margins of safety) but only for larger (> 1 kg) species, but was not sensitive to speed for smaller species. Overall, no single antipredator behavior model could characterize all different types of escape responses relative to vehicle approach speed but some models showed some levels of sensitivity for certain rules of escape behavior. We derive some applied applications of our findings by suggesting the estimation of critical vehicle approach speeds for managing populations that are especially susceptible to road mortality. Overall, we recommend that new escape behavior models specifically tailored to high-speeds vehicles should be developed to better predict quantitatively the responses of animals to an increase in the frequency of cars, airplanes, drones, etc. they will face in the next decade.