Evolution

Skunky or Social

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Science  21 Mar 2014:
Vol. 343, Issue 6177, pp. 1291
DOI: 10.1126/science.343.6177.1291-a
CREDIT: DORLING KINDERSLEY/GETTY IMAGES

Though we often think of mammals in the order Carnivora as predators, many of these species are themselves subject to high rates of predation and, as such, have evolved a suite of antipredator defenses that tend to sort them into two quite different categories. Such small carnivore species generally tend to be either solitary, often aposematically colored and armed with noxious anal sprays, or social and highly vigilant. Stankowich et al. used natural history data, including range overlap with potential predators, body size, and activity patterns, in conjunction with comparative phylogenetic analyses on 181 species of mammals to identify patterns of predation risk that could have contributed to the evolution of these two defensive strategies. They found that species that have evolved noxious sprays as a defense, such as skunks, tend to be nocturnal and subject to predation by other mammals, whereas socially vigilant species, such as mongooses, tend to be diurnal and at risk of predation by birds of prey. These results show how similar ecological contexts can result in the repeated evolution of highly adaptive strategies across species and regions.

Evolution 10.1111/evo.12356 (2014).

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