Scaling laws of marine predator search behaviour

David W. Sims, Emily J. Southall, Nicolas E. Humphries, Graeme C. Hays, Corey J. A. Bradshaw, Jonathan W. Pitchford, Alex James, Mohammed Z. Ahmed, Andrew S. Brierley, Mark A. Hindell, David Morritt, Michael K. Musyl, David Righton, Emily L. C. Shepard, Victoria J. Wearmouth, Rory P. Wilson, Matthew J. Witt, Julian D. Metcalfe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

785 Citations (Scopus)


Many free- ranging predators have to make foraging decisions with little, if any, knowledge of present resource distribution and availability(1). The optimal search strategy they should use to maximize encounter rates with prey in heterogeneous natural environments remains a largely unresolved issue in ecology(1-3). Levy walks(4) are specialized random walks giving rise to fractal movement trajectories that may represent an optimal solution for searching complex landscapes(5). However, the adaptive significance of this putative strategy in response to natural prey distributions remains untested(6,7). Here we analyse over a million movement displacements recorded from animal- attached electronic tags to show that diverse marine predators - sharks, bony fishes, sea turtles and penguins - exhibit Levy- walk- like behaviour close to a theoretical optimum(2). Prey density distributions also display Levy- like fractal patterns, suggesting response movements by predators to prey distributions. Simulations show that predators have higher encounter rates when adopting Levy- type foraging in natural- like prey fields compared with purely random landscapes. This is consistent with the hypothesis that observed search patterns are adapted to observed statistical patterns of the landscape. This may explain why Levy- like behaviour seems to be widespread among diverse organisms(3), from microbes(8) to humans(9), as a `rule' that evolved in response to patchy resource distributions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1098-1102
Number of pages6
Issue number7182
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2008


  • WALK


Dive into the research topics of 'Scaling laws of marine predator search behaviour'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this