, Volume 55, Issue 3, pp 223-230
Date: 06 Nov 2003

Lévy walk patterns in the foraging movements of spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi)

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Scale invariant patterns have been found in different biological systems, in many cases resembling what physicists have found in other, nonbiological systems. Here we describe the foraging patterns of free-ranging spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi) in the forest of the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico and find that these patterns closely resemble what physicists know as Lévy walks. First, the length of a trajectory’s constituent steps, or continuous moves in the same direction, is best described by a power-law distribution in which the frequency of ever larger steps decreases as a negative power function of their length. The rate of this decrease is very close to that predicted by a previous analytical Lévy walk model to be an optimal strategy to search for scarce resources distributed at random. Second, the frequency distribution of the duration of stops or waiting times also approximates to a power-law function. Finally, the mean square displacement during the monkeys’ first foraging trip increases more rapidly than would be expected from a random walk with constant step length, but within the range predicted for Lévy walks. In view of these results, we analyze the different exponents characterizing the trajectories described by females and males, and by monkeys on their own and when part of a subgroup. We discuss the origin of these patterns and their implications for the foraging ecology of spider monkeys.

Communicated by D. Watts