Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 55, Issue 3, pp 223–230 | Cite as

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

  • Gabriel Ramos-Fernández
  • José L. Mateos
  • Octavio Miramontes
  • Germinal Cocho
  • Hernán Larralde
  • Bárbara Ayala-Orozco
Original Article


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.


Animal movement Spider monkeys Lévy walks Scale invariance Foraging 



The authors are truly grateful to Eulogio and Macedonio Canul, who provided invaluable assistance in the field by locating the study groups and by collecting data. Laura Vick and David Taub initiated the study of spider monkeys in Punta Laguna. Fieldwork was financed by a graduate scholarship from the National Council for Science and Technology (CONACYT, Mexico) and by grants from the Wildlife Conservation Society, the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO, Mexico), the Mexican Fund for the Conservation of Nature (FMCN), and the Turner Foundation. Data analysis and manuscript preparation was financed by CONACYT project 32453-E and DGAPA project IN-111000, as well as a visiting scholarship (Cátedra Tomás Brody) from the Complex Systems Department at the Physics Institute, National Autonomous University of México. One of the authors (J.L.M.) gratefully acknowledges useful conversations with Michael F. Shlesinger and Joseph Klafter and financial support from UNAM through project DGAPA-IN-111000. Two anonymous reviewers provided useful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. These observations were performed in compliance with the Mexican Environment Protection Law (LGEEPA).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gabriel Ramos-Fernández
    • 1
    • 4
  • José L. Mateos
    • 1
  • Octavio Miramontes
    • 1
  • Germinal Cocho
    • 1
  • Hernán Larralde
    • 2
  • Bárbara Ayala-Orozco
    • 3
  1. 1.Departamento de Sistemas Complejos, Instituto de FísicaUniversidad Nacional Autónoma de MéxicoMéxico D.F.México
  2. 2.Centro de Ciencias FísicasUniversidad Nacional Autónoma de MéxicoCuernavacaMéxico
  3. 3.Department of Environmental StudiesUniversity of CaliforniaSanta CruzUSA
  4. 4.Pronatura Península de YucatánMérida, Yucatán México

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