Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Animal foraging tactics unchanged for 50 million years

Date:
July 15, 2014
Source:
University of Southampton
Summary:
Animals have used the same technique to search for food that's in short supply for at least 50 million years, a new study suggests. Researchers analyzed fossilized sea urchin trails from northern Spain and found the tracks reflect a search pattern still used by a huge range of creatures today.

Fossilized sea urchin tracks at Zumaia.
Credit: Richard Twitchett / Trustees NHM

Animals have used the same technique to search for food that's in short supply for at least 50 million years, a University of Southampton-led study suggests.

Researchers analysed fossilised sea urchin trails from northern Spain and found the tracks reflect a search pattern still used by a huge range of creatures today.

But this is the first example of extinct animals using such a strategy.

The findings could explain why so many modern animals use the technique, and suggest the pattern may have an even more ancient origin.

Creatures including sharks, honeybees, albatrosses and penguins all search for food according to a mathematical pattern of movement called a Lvy walk -- a random search strategy made up of many small steps combined with a few longer steps. Although a Lvy walk is random, it's the most efficient way to find food when it's scarce.

David Sims, Professor of Marine Ecology at the University of Southampton and lead author of the study, says: "How best to search for food in complex landscapes is a common problem facing all mobile creatures.

"Finding food in a timely fashion can be a matter of life or death for animals -- choose the wrong direction to move in often enough and it could be curtains. But moving in a random search pattern called a Lvy walk is mathematically the best way to find isolated food."

Even though a wide range of modern creatures search for food according to this pattern, scientists had no idea how the pattern came about, until now.

Professor Sims and colleagues from the University of Southampton, NERC's National Oceanography Centre, Rothamsted Research, VU University Amsterdam and the Natural History Museum analysed the fossilised Eocene-era tracks that were made by sea urchins that lived on the deep sea floor around 50 million years ago. The long trails are preserved in rocky cliffs in a region called Zumaia in northern Spain.

"Finding the signature of an optimal behaviour in the fossil record is exceedingly rare and will help to understand how ancient animals survived very harsh conditions associated with the effects of dramatic climate changes," says Professor Sims, who is currently seconded to the Marine Biological Association in Plymouth. "Perhaps it's a case of when the going got tough, the tough really did get going."

"The patterns are striking, because they indicate optimal Lvy walk searches likely have a very ancient origin and may arise from simple behaviours observed in much older fossil trails from the Silurian period, around 440 million years ago," he adds.

Professor Richard Twitchett of the Natural History Museum and co-author of the study adds: "It's amazing to think that 50 million-year-old fossil burrows and trails have provided us with the first evidence of foraging strategies in animals that live on and in the deep-sea floor -- studies which would be nearly impossible and very expensive to do in modern oceans.

"Trace fossils are remarkable and beautiful records of the movements of ancient animals, which have been frozen in time and tell us so much about the evolution of life on Earth and the environments of the past."

The researchers think the collapse of primary producers, such as phytoplankton, and widespread food scarcity caused by mass extinctions, which show up in the fossil record, could have triggered the evolution of Lvy-like searches.

The Eocene lasted from 56 to 33.9 million years ago, and began as a time of global warming, with temperatures soaring across the planet.

Lvy walks aren't just confined to animals; our ancient hunter-gatherer ancestors used exactly the same approach, as do modern hunter-gatherers in northern Tanzania.

The study is published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Southampton. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. D. W. Sims, A. M. Reynolds, N. E. Humphries, E. J. Southall, V. J. Wearmouth, B. Metcalfe, R. J. Twitchett. Hierarchical random walks in trace fossils and the origin of optimal search behavior. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1405966111

Cite This Page:

University of Southampton. "Animal foraging tactics unchanged for 50 million years." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 July 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140715215730.htm>.
University of Southampton. (2014, July 15). Animal foraging tactics unchanged for 50 million years. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140715215730.htm
University of Southampton. "Animal foraging tactics unchanged for 50 million years." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140715215730.htm (accessed September 22, 2014).

Share This



More Fossils & Ruins News

Monday, September 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Iconic 'Easy Rider' Chopper Bike to Go on Auction Block

Iconic 'Easy Rider' Chopper Bike to Go on Auction Block

AFP (Sep. 19, 2014) The iconic Harley-Davidson motorbike ridden by Peter Fonda in the 1969 classic "Easy Rider" is to go under the hammer in California, and auctioneers predict it will make at least $1 million. Duration: 01:09 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Chocolate Museum Opens in Brussels

Chocolate Museum Opens in Brussels

AFP (Sep. 19, 2014) Considered a "national heritage" in Belgium, chocolate now has a new museum in Brussels. In a former chocolate factory, visitors to the permanent exhibition spaces, workshops and tastings can discover derivatives of the cocoa bean. Duration: 01:00 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Egypt Denies Claims Oldest Pyramid Damaged in Restoration

Egypt Denies Claims Oldest Pyramid Damaged in Restoration

AFP (Sep. 17, 2014) Egypt's antiquities minister denied Tuesday claims that the Djoser pyramid, the country's first, had been damaged during restoration work by a company accused of being unqualified to do such work. Duration: 00:56 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
King Richard III's Painful Cause Of Death Revealed

King Richard III's Painful Cause Of Death Revealed

Newsy (Sep. 17, 2014) King Richard III died in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, and now researchers examining his skull think they know how. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins