Group hunting within the Carnivora: physiological, cognitive and environmental influences on strategy and cooperation
Cooperative hunting is believed to have important implications for the evolution of sociality and advanced cognitive abilities. Variation in the level of hunt organisation amongst species and how their cognitive, behavioural and athletic adaptations may contribute to observed patterns of cooperative hunting behaviour, however, are poorly understood. We, therefore, reviewed the literature for evidence of different levels of hunt organisation and cooperation in carnivorans and examined their social and physical adaptations for hunting. Descriptions of group hunting were scarce for many species and often of insufficient detail for us to be able to classify the level of hunt organisation involved. However, despite this, reports of behaviour fitting the description of collaboration, the most advanced level of hunt organisation, were found in over half the carnivorans reported to hunt cooperatively. There was no evidence that this behaviour would require advanced cognitive abilities. However, there was some evidence that both social mechanisms reducing aggression between group members and information transfer amongst individuals may aid cooperative hunting. In general, the cooperative strategies used seemed to depend partly on the species’ locomotor abilities and habitat. There was some evidence that individuals take on consistent roles during cooperative hunts in some species, but it was not clear if this reflects individuals’ physical differences, social factors or life experiences. Better understanding of the social, cognitive and physical mechanisms underlying cooperative hunting, and indeed establishing to what degree it exists in the first instance, will require more data for multiple individuals and species over many hunts.