Environmental context explains Levy and Brownian movement patterns of marine predators

N.E. Humphries, N. Queiroz, J.R.M. Dyer, N.G. Pade, M.K. Musyl, K.M. Schaefer, D.W. Fuller, J.M. Brunnschweiler, T.K. Doyle, Jonathan Houghton, G.C. Hays, C.S. Jones, L.R. Noble, V.J. Wearmouth, E.J. Southall, D.W. Sims

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

517 Citations (Scopus)


An optimal search theory, the so-called Levy-flight foraging hypothesis(1), predicts that predators should adopt search strategies known as Levy flights where prey is sparse and distributed unpredictably, but that Brownian movement is sufficiently efficient for locating abundant prey(2-4). Empirical studies have generated controversy because the accuracy of statistical methods that have been used to identify Levy behaviour has recently been questioned(5,6). Consequently, whether foragers exhibit Levy flights in the wild remains unclear. Crucially, moreover, it has not been tested whether observed movement patterns across natural landscapes having different expected resource distributions conform to the theory's central predictions. Here we use maximum-likelihood methods to test for Levy patterns in relation to environmental gradients in the largest animal movement data set assembled for this purpose. Strong support was found for Levy search patterns across 14 species of open-ocean predatory fish (sharks, tuna, billfish and ocean sunfish), with some individuals switching between Levy and Brownian movement as they traversed different habitat types. We tested the spatial occurrence of these two principal patterns and found Levy behaviour to be associated with less productive waters (sparser prey) and Brownian movements to be associated with productive shelf or convergence-front habitats (abundant prey). These results are consistent with the Levy-flight foraging hypothesis(1,7), supporting the contention(8,9) that organism search strategies naturally evolved in such a way that they exploit optimal Levy patterns.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1066-1069
Number of pages4
Issue number7301
Early online date09 Jun 2010
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jun 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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