DOI: 10.1007/s10144-009-0185-x

The effect of learning and search images on predator–prey interactions

1. Department of Systems Sciences (Biology), The University of Tokyo

Correspondence to:
Yumiko Ishii



In dealing with the spatial and temporal variability of prey species, predators may be able to forage optimally if they have flexible and rapid behavioral plasticity rather than predetermined responses. For predators that learn to focus attention on the cryptic prey type most frequently encountered during recent searching (termed a “search image”), rare prey types may be overlooked because of a focus on more common prey. Search imaging reflects biased searching for one of a number of available prey types, and has been studied widely in birds and mammals. Here we discuss the significant implications of this phenomenon for insect predator–prey systems, particularly with respect to parasitic wasps searching for host species using learned olfactory cues. We (1) review studies about perceptual development through individual ontogeny, (2) define the term “search image” and discuss the cognitive mechanisms involved in search-image formation, (3) discuss the role of search images and frequency-dependent predation as a proximate mechanism in the maintenance of prey diversity, (4) examine data on host–parasitoid olfactory search imaging, and (5) conclude by identifying important research areas for future studies in the field of olfactory search images.

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