What Sharks, Honeybees and Humans Have in Common: They Travel the Same Way

First Posted: Dec 24, 2013 08:36 AM EST

What do sharks, honeybees and humans all have in common? It turns out that they all travel the same way. Scientists have created a mathematical pattern called a Levy walk, which can describe the foraging pattern of many different species of animals.

"Scientists have been interested in characterizing how animals search for a long time, so we decided to look at whether human hunter-gatherers use similar patterns," said David Raichlen, one of the researchers, in a news release.

In order to learn a bit more about movement, the researchers worked with the Hadza people of Tanzania. The Hadza are one of the last big-game hunters in Africa, and one of the last groups on Earth to still forage on food with traditional methods.

The members of the tribe were given wristwatches with GPS units that tracked their movement while on hunting or foraging bouts. The GPS data showed that while the Hadza use other movement patterns, the dominant theme of their foraging movements is the Levy walk, which is the same pattern used by many other animals when hunting or foraging.

"Detecting this pattern among the Hadza, as has been found in several other species, tells us that such patterns are likely the result of general foraging strategies that many species adopt, across a wide variety of contexts," said Brian Wood, one of the researchers, in a news release.

The Levy walk pattern seems to be ubiquitous in animals. It's similar to the golden ratio, phi, a mathematical ratio that can describe proportions in plants and animals throughout nature. The Levy walk itself involves a series of short movements in one area and then a longer trek to another area. It's also not limited to searches for food; some studies have shown that people follow a Levy walk while ambling around an amusement park.

"Think about your life," said Raichlen in a news release. "What do you do on a normal day? Go to work and come back, walk short distances around your house? Then every once in a while you take these long steps, on foot, bike, in a car or on a plane. We tend to take short steps in one area and then take longer strides to get to another area."

The findings reveal a little bit more about walking patterns. In future studies, the scientists hope to understand the reasons for using a Levy walk and whether the pattern is determined by the distribution of resources in the environment.

The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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