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PNAS: New movement models tested at STRI

December 09, 2008

PNAS: New movement models tested at STRI

Tracking and remote sensing data are making it easier to locate organisms and find out what they are up to

Tracking and remote sensing data are making it easier to locate organisms and find out what they are up to. However, general theories of movement are lacking. In a special feature on “Movement Ecology” to be published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers present integrative models for movement of organisms as diverse as gut bacteria, tree seeds, ants, marine larvae and cheetahs.

"Our goal is to develop and test a general theoretical framework for movement that will integrate when, where, how and why organisms move, and will reveal the ecological and evolutionary consequences of movement," says Ran Nathan, research associate at STRI from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem working with STRI staff scientist S. Joseph Wright.

To ensure that mathematical models accurately predict real events, several have been developed and tested in the complex tropical forest on BCI. One of these is a new model for seed dispersal by wind, which accurately predicts tree seed movement under a wide range of conditions. Because trees can't simply pull up their roots and move in response to climate change or other threats, accurate modeling of tree seed dispersal has major implications for conservation across fragmented ecosystems and for understanding biological diversity.

"We add two entirely new things to this model: first, we consider dispersal in two dimensions, so that we can tell how close seeds fall to siblings who are potential competitors and sources of pests and disease. Previous investigators only considered the distance seeds moved," said STRI´s S. Joseph Wright. "In the end, we show that the direction of a seed's fall can compensate for large differences in distance moved: the ability of individual seeds and whole groups of trees to move across a landscape is a result of trade-offs with other traits that affect their survival."

Sensor systems mounted on satellites and on the ground will deliver increasing quantities of information about the changing location of organisms through time. An integrated Movement Ecology paradigm strengthens the ability of researchers to decide which information matters from a biological point of view and to make predictions essential to understanding phenomena from the spread of infectious diseases to habitat use by migratory birds.

Information taken from EurekAlert!

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