The Cost of Fear

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Science  09 Dec 2011:
Vol. 334, Issue 6061, pp. 1353-1354
DOI: 10.1126/science.1216109

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What should parents do when they detect indications of more predators nearby that might eat their babies? This scenario is commonly faced by parents in the wild, and the consequences are important. The number of offspring that organisms produce has a major influence on fitness and, when averaged across a population, affects whether this population will increase or decrease. Offspring production thus has critical implications for evolution via fitness, and ecology and conservation via demography. On page 1398 of this issue, Zanette et al. (1) show that the fear of predation can, by itself, strongly affect the number of offspring produced over an annual cycle by song sparrows (see the figure).