LOS ANGELES – Despite the falsehoods that some politicians peddle, facts still matter, and getting those facts right is essential for survival. I know, because I regularly see the deadly consequences of getting facts wrong.
I am a behavioral ecologist, and I study how animals assess and manage predation risk. But, rather than study the flashy predators – with their sharp teeth, stealthy approaches, and impressive sprinting abilities – I focus on their food.
Some wallabies make bad use of facts. Too often, these four-legged snacks ignore information right in front of them – like rustling in the underbrush or the scent of a passing carnivore. And they pay for this ignorance dearly, with the sudden slash of talons, or the constricting squeeze of a powerful jaw.
But my research has shown that many would-be meals – marmots, birds, lizards, fish, and sessile marine invertebrates among them – are better at assessing risk. In 1979, the ecologists Richard Dawkins and John Krebs proposed the “life-dinner principle,” which holds that prey, with more to lose than predators, are more creative survivalists. The risk of being eaten – and thus removed from the gene pool – provides a strong incentive to up one’s game. For the predator, the only consequence of failure is going hungry until the next meal.
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