Hierarchical random walks in trace fossils and the origin of optimal search behavior

Sims, DW 2014 Hierarchical random walks in trace fossils and the origin of optimal search behavior. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences U.S.A.. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1405966111

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Efficient searching is crucial for timely location of food and other resources. Recent studies show diverse living animals employ a theoretically optimal scale-free random search for sparse resources known as a Lévy walk, but little is known of the origins and evolution of foraging behaviour and the search strategies of extinct organisms. Here we show using simulations of self-avoiding trace fossil trails that randomly introduced strophotaxis (U-turns) – initiated by obstructions such as ¬¬¬self-trail avoidance or innate cueing – leads to random looping patterns with clustering across increasing scales that is consistent with the presence of Lévy walks. This predicts optimal Lévy searches can emerge from simple behaviours observed in fossil trails. We then analysed fossilized trails of benthic marine organisms using a novel path analysis technique and find the first evidence of Lévy-like search strategies in extinct animals. Our results show that simple search behaviours of extinct animals in heterogeneous environments give rise to hierarchically nested Brownian walk clusters that converge to optimal Lévy patterns. Primary productivity collapse and large-scale food scarcity characterising mass extinctions evident in the fossil record may have triggered adaptation of optimal Lévy-like searches. The findings suggest Lévy-like behaviour has been employed by foragers since at least the Eocene but may have a more ancient origin, which could explain recent widespread observations of such patterns among modern taxa.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Additional Keywords: Brownian motion superdiffusion scale invariance climate change
Subjects: Ecology and Environment
Divisions: Marine Biological Association of the UK > Ocean Biology
Depositing User: Professor David Sims
Date made live: 22 Jun 2015 15:57
Last Modified: 09 Feb 2024 16:54
URI: https://plymsea.ac.uk/id/eprint/6428

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