CZAAWE Resource Article

The Behavioral Ecology of Intermittent Locomotion
Publication Type 
Journal Article
Year of publication 
2001
Publication/Journal 
American Zoologist
Abstract 
Most physiological and ecological approaches to animal locomotion are based on steady state assumptions, yet movements of many animals are interspersed with pauses lasting from milliseconds to minutes. Thus, pauses, along with changes in the duration and speed of moves, form part of a dynamic system of intermittent locomotion by which animals adjust their locomotor behavior to changing circumstances. Intermittent locomotion occurs in a wide array of organisms from protozoans to mammals. It is found in aerial, aquatic and terrestrial locomotion and in many behavioral contexts including search and pursuit of prey, mate search, escape from predators, habitat assessment and general travel. In our survey, animals exhibiting intermittent locomotion paused on average nearly 50% of their locomotion time (range 6–94%). Although intermittent locomotion is usually expected to increase energetic costs as a result of additional expenditure for acceleration and deceleration, a variety of energetic benefits can arise when forward movement continues during pauses. Endurance also can be improved by partial recovery from fatigue during pauses. Perceptual benefits can arise because pauses increase the capacity of the sensory systems to detect relevant stimuli. Several processes, including velocity blur, relative motion detection, foveation, attention and interference between sensory systems are probably involved. In animals that do not pause, alternative mechanisms for stabilizing the perceptual field are often present. Because movement is an important cue for stimulus detection, pauses can also reduce unwanted detection by an organism's predators or prey. Several models have attempted to integrate energetic and perceptual processes, but many challenges remain. Future advances will require improved quantification of the effects of speed on perception.