Intersection of motor volumes predicts the outcome of ambush predation of larval zebrafish

Kiran Bhattacharyya, David L. McLean, Malcolm A. Maciver*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Escape maneuvers are key determinants of animal survival and are under intense selection pressure. A number of escape maneuver parameters contribute to survival, including response latency, escape speed and direction. However, the relative importance of these parameters is context dependent, suggesting that interactions between parameters and predatory context determine the likelihood of escape success. To better understand how escape maneuver parameters interact and contribute to survival, we analyzed the responses of larval zebrafish (Danio rerio) to the attacks of dragonfly nymphs (Sympetrum vicinum). We found that no single parameter explains the outcome. Instead, the relative intersection of the swept volume of the nymph's grasping organs with the volume containing all possible escape trajectories of the fish is the strongest predictor of escape success. In cases where the prey's motor volume exceeds that of the predator, the prey survives. By analyzing the intersection of these volumes, we compute the survival benefit of recruiting the Mauthner cell, a neuron in anamniotes devoted to producing escapes. We discuss how the intersection of motor volume approach provides a framework that unifies the influence of many escape maneuver parameters on the likelihood of survival.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberjeb235481
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • Ambush
  • Escape
  • Predation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Insect Science
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Physiology


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