Experimental simulation in behavioral ecology: a multimedia approach with the spatial searching simulation RattleSnake©

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Searchers in nature often have accurate knowledge of the spatial location of the resource targets they seek, though in many other cases they have none. For example, the spatial distribution of targets such as food patches or potential mates may shift or change unpredictably from season to season. Searchers encountering circumstances of these sorts may be said to be “naive”. This problem is compounded by the fact that spatial distributions of targets may vary statistically as well: they may be distributed randomly, uniformly, or they may be clustered. Accordingly, since we study an animal system in nature that encounters such challenges (i.e., free-ranging rattlesnakes in many parts of their range), we wrote a comprehensive spatial searching program for Macintosh systems that simulates this problem thoroughly, RattleSnake©. In a large series of experimental simulations using this software, we found that search paths of high vector magnitude (approaching 1.0), or those that approached straight lines, generated large numbers of collisions in large, clustered worlds. No search path was any better than any other in large, randomly or uniformly distributed worlds. Zig-zag paths of low vector magnitude (approaching zero) in small worlds of all types and of all densities were efficacious, due to continuous turning which prevented searchers from moving out of or exiting patches. Thus it appears that there are design rules in nature governing target collision probabilities in some but not all two-dimensional spatial worlds. Search paths of high vector magnitude, or those approaching straight lines, generate high collision frequencies in statistically clustered spatial worlds, for example. RattleSnake© thus may be useful in programs of basic and/or applied behavioral ecology, including conservation, as well as in laboratory and multimedia classroom education.

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Correspondence to D. Duvall.

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Duvall, D., Chiszar, D., Mintzer, R.A. et al. Experimental simulation in behavioral ecology: a multimedia approach with the spatial searching simulation RattleSnake©. EBO 2, 1–11 (1997) doi:10.1007/s00898-997-0016-5

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Key words:

  • Macintosh simulation
  • Rattlesnakes
  • Searching behavior