, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp 1-54

First online:

Behavioral implications of mechanistic ecology

Thermal and behavioral modeling of desert ectotherms and their microenvironment
  • W. P. PorterAffiliated withDepartment of Zoology, The University of Wisconsin
  • , J. W. MitchellAffiliated withDepartment of Mechanical Engineering, The University of Wisconsin
  • , W. A. BeckmanAffiliated withDepartment of Mechanical Engineering, The University of Wisconsin
  • , C. B. DeWittAffiliated withInstitute for Environmental Studies, The University of Wisconsin

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


Mechanistic principles from engineering, meteorology, and soil physics are integrated with ecology and physiology to develop models for prediction of animal behavior. The Mojave Desert biome and the desert iguana are used to illustrate these principles.

A transient energy balance model for animals in an outdoor environment is presented. The concepts and relationships have been tested in a wind tunnel, in a simulated desert, and in the field. The animal model requires anatomical information and knowledge of the thermoregulatory responses of the animal. The micrometeorological model requires only basic meteorological parameters and two soil physical properties as inputs. Tests of the model in the field show agreement between predicted and measured temperatures above and below the surface of about 2 to 3°C.

The animal and micrometeorological models are combined to predict daily and seasonal activity patterns, available times for predator-prey interaction, and daily, seasonal and annual requirements for food and water. It is shown that food, water and the thermal environment can limit animal activity, and furthermore, the controlling limit changes with season. Actual observations of activity patterns and our predictions show close agreement, in many cases, and pose intriguing questions in those situations where agreement does not exist. This type of modeling can be used to further study predator-prey interactions, to study how changes in the environment might affect animal behavior, and to answer other important ecological and physiological questions.