Cooperative behaviours, such as aggregation with neighbouring conspecifics, canenhance resilience in habitats where risks (i.e. predation, physical disturbances) are high, exerting positive feedback loops to maintain a healthy population. At the same time, cooperation behaviours can involve some extra energy expenditures and in‐ creasing resource competition. For sessile reefs, like mussels, simulation models predict increased cooperation under increasing levels of environmental stress. Predation risk is viewed as a behaviour‐modifying stressor, but its role on cooperation mechanisms, such as likelihood of reciprocity, has not yet been empirically tested. This study harnesses this framework to understand how cooperation changes under different perceived levels of predation risk, using mussel beds as model of a complex“self‐organised” system. Hence, we assessed the context dependency of cooperation response in different “landscapes of fear,” created by changes in predator cues, sub‐ stratum availability and body size. Our experiments demonstrated that i) cooperation in a mussel bed system increases when predator cues are present, but that this relationship was found to be both, ii) strongly context‐dependent, particularly upon substratum availability and iii) size‐dependent. That is, while cooperation is in general greater for larger individuals, the response to risk results in greater cooperation when alternative attachment substratum is absent, meaning that simpler landscapes may be perceived as riskier. The context dependency of structural complexity is also an essential finding to consider in a changing world where habitats are losing complexity and cooperative strategies should be maximised.
- predation risk