Social connections between animals, including those belonging to competing species, play a much bigger role in ecology than previously believed, according to a study.
The researchers, including those from University of California (UC) - Davis in the US, said that some animals in the wild like gazelles, wildebeests, or zebras become aware of the presence of a predator such as a lion by seeing how other species in their vicinity react, using their social network to keep themselves safe.
The study, published in the journal Ecology, is the first to describe an ecology model taking this kind of short-term information sharing into account at the population level.
"There's mounting evidence that different species pay attention to each other in the wild, especially if they share predators. The theory of ecology has lagged behind," said study co-author Mike Gil from UC Davis.
According to the researchers, ecologists traditionally focused on competition between species for food and other resources.
"But we typically leave out the specifics of animal decision making and social behaviour," Gil said.
The researchers hope to understand how the populations of different species interact with each other and change over time.
The effects of such short term behaviour are especially strong at low population densities, he said.
When the number of animals of a species living in a specific region is high, the models show that the competition between species is a stronger influence of their overall behaviour, the study noted.
According to the researchers, the new theory could clear up some existing puzzles in ecology such as how competing species coexist without one driving the other out.
Social interactions between competing -- "frenemies" -- species could help them get along, Gil said.
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