Animals And Humans Use Similar Tactics to Find Food

The authors think this particular foraging method may have evolved in early humans and stuck around through the eons due to its effectiveness

hunters in Africa
Hadza hunter-gatherers on the hunt for dinner. Brian Wood

For animals in the wild, finding food is not so straight forward as making a beeline for the nearest grocery store. They must explore their environment and use their senses to locate some delicious grub, whether vegetable or fellow organism. Researchers have found that animals from insects to mammals forage for food using a method called a Lévy walk—a random wandering pattern that alternates close exploration of an area with longer travels to new areas. Now, an international team of researchers has found that humans, too, find this pattern of movement ideal for finding food.

The team studied the habits of hunter-gatherers called the Hadza, a group that lives in Tanzania, and discovered that the Hadza's movements were surprisingly similar to those of animals they were hunting, the researchers report in a new paper, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

They asked 44 Hadza from two different groups to carry GPS units with them during nearly 350 walks in which the men and women looked for food. Hadza men tend to hunt, while women forage for plants. Just over 40 percent of those food-finding sessions closely followed a Lévy walk pattern of movement, which the authors define as "the distance traveled before pausing or turning more than 40 degrees." The hunter-gatherers used this method to search for everything from tubers to animal prey.

Although humans have an edge over our furry, scaled and feathered counterparts when it comes to intelligence, the researchers write, this relatively simple strategy still proved a useful means of finding food in nearly half of foraging cases—at least in Tanzania. The authors think the Lévy walk may have evolved in early humans and stuck around through the eons due to its effectiveness. Sometimes, it seems, the simplest solution is indeed the best.

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