Pallieres, C. G. D., Rose, P. E. 2023. Two’s company, three species is a crowd? A webcam-based study of the behavioural effects of mixed-species groupings in the wild and in the zoo. PLOS ONE 18(4), e0284221.

Mixed species exhibits in zoos are used to create larger, more stimulating environments to support naturalistic interactions between species. In the wild, mixed species groups are observed as having lower rates of vigilance, presumably due to reduced predation risk through ’detection’ and ’dilution’ effects. This effect appears to be highly variable depending on factors such as food availability or degree of threat. This study aimed to collect data on mixed-species associations and consequent vigilance rates in the wild, collecting equivalent data from a large mixed-species zoo enclosure to compare the findings between free-ranging and captive populations. The study additionally investigated whether large mixed-species enclosures support natural associations and behaviours, by comparing the behaviour of captive animals with wild counterparts. The study used livestream video feeds from 10 national parks in South Africa and Kenya to observe free-ranging species, and a camera at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s mixed species African exhibit. Scan and continuous sampling protocols were used simultaneously to record behavioural states as well as the rate of scanning (vigilance) events. GLMMs were run to test whether vigilance of a focal species varied according to the number of animals present, the density of animals in the group, and the diversity of species. In the wild, vigilance decreased with increasing number of animals in the surroundings but in captivity the group size had no impact. The results suggest that in the wild, these species benefit from increased perceived safety in larger groups, regardless of the species making up that group. No effect was noted in the zoo because of a reduced need for animals to show heightened vigilance to the same degree as in the wild. Similarities were observed in associations between species/mixed species group compositions, and in behaviour budgets. These findings provide a preliminary evaluation of how the impact of mixed species groupings may translate from the wild to the zoo, based on the associations and behaviour across a variety of African ungulates.