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Am Nat. 1997 Sep;150(3):373-92. doi: 10.1086/286070.

Mutualism among safe, selfish sentinels: a dynamic game.

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  • Institute of Applied Mathematics and Centre for Biodiversity Research, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z2, Canada.


Sentinels are group members that watch from prominent positions. Sentinel interchanges often appear orderly, and groups with sentinels rarely have zero or many sentinels. A dynamic game was constructed to examine if these observations about sentinels could be based on selfish actions by individual group members. In this game, each group member chose to forage or be a sentinel based on its own energetic state and the actions of others. Sentinels received a selfish antipredator benefit if their ability to detect approaching predators more than compensated for their increased exposure to undetected predators. Provided sentinels were relatively safe and that detection information spread to other group members when sentinels detected predators, sentinels appeared highly coordinated for all combinations of parameters. This apparent coordination was based on mutualism because each individual gained by being a sentinel when other group members were not (and foraging when other group members were being sentinels). The model was very robust, but exact level of sentinel behavior varied somewhat with changes in foraging and predation parameters. This model could best be tested by testing its assumptions about sentinel safety, foraging-predation trade-offs, and information transfer in groups.

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