The influence of turning angles on the success of non-oriented animal searches

J Theor Biol. 2008 May 7;252(1):43-55. doi: 10.1016/j.jtbi.2008.01.009. Epub 2008 Jan 19.


Animal searches cover a full range of possibilities from highly deterministic to apparently completely random behaviors. However, even those stochastic components of animal movement can be adaptive, since not all random distributions lead to similar success in finding targets. Here we address the general problem of optimizing encounter rates in non-deterministic, non-oriented searches, both in homogeneous and patchy target landscapes. Specifically, we investigate how two different features related to turning angle distributions influence encounter success: (i) the shape (relative kurtosis) of the angular distribution and (ii) the correlations between successive relative orientations (directional memory). Such influence is analyzed in correlated random walk models using a proper choice of representative turning angle distributions of the recently proposed Jones and Pewsey class. We consider the cases of distributions with nearly the same shape but considerably distinct correlation lengths, and distributions with same correlation but with contrasting relative kurtosis. In homogeneous landscapes, we find that the correlation length has a large influence in the search efficiency. Moreover, similar search efficiencies can be reached by means of distinctly shaped turning angle distributions, provided that the resulting correlation length is the same. In contrast, in patchy landscapes the particular shape of the distribution also becomes relevant for the search efficiency, specially at high target densities. Excessively sharp distributions generate very inefficient searches in landscapes where local target density fluctuations are large. These results are of evolutionary interest. On the one hand, it is shown that equally successful directional memory can arise from contrasting turning behaviors, therefore increasing the likelihood of robust adaptive stochastic behavior. On the other hand, when target landscape is patchy, adequate tumbling may help to explore better local scale heterogeneities, being some details of the shape of the distribution also potentially adaptive.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Appetitive Behavior / physiology*
  • Ecosystem
  • Models, Biological*
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Orientation
  • Stochastic Processes