Signatures of active and passive optimized Lévy searching in jellyfish

Andy M. Reynolds


Some of the strongest empirical support for Lévy search theory has come from telemetry data for the dive patterns of marine predators (sharks, bony fishes, sea turtles and penguins). The dive patterns of the unusually large jellyfish Rhizostoma octopus do, however, sit outside of current Lévy search theory which predicts that a single search strategy is optimal. When searching the water column, the movement patterns of these jellyfish change over time. Movement bouts can be approximated by a variety of Lévy and Brownian (exponential) walks. The adaptive value of this variation is not known. On some occasions movement pattern data are consistent with the jellyfish prospecting away from a preferred depth, not finding an improvement in conditions elsewhere and so returning to their original depth. This ‘bounce’ behaviour also sits outside of current Lévy walk search theory. Here, it is shown that the jellyfish movement patterns are consistent with their using optimized ‘fast simulated annealing’—a novel kind of Lévy walk search pattern—to locate the maximum prey concentration in the water column and/or to locate the strongest of many olfactory trails emanating from more distant prey. Fast simulated annealing is a powerful stochastic search algorithm for locating a global maximum that is hidden among many poorer local maxima in a large search space. This new finding shows that the notion of active optimized Lévy walk searching is not limited to the search for randomly and sparsely distributed resources, as previously thought, but can be extended to embrace other scenarios, including that of the jellyfish R. octopus. In the presence of convective currents, it could become energetically favourable to search the water column by riding the convective currents. Here, it is shown that these passive movements can be represented accurately by Lévy walks of the type occasionally seen in R. octopus. This result vividly illustrates that Lévy walks are not necessarily the result of selection pressures for advantageous searching behaviour but can instead arise freely and naturally from simple processes. It also shows that the family of Lévy walkers is vastly larger than previously thought and includes spores, pollens, seeds and minute wingless arthropods that on warm days disperse passively within the atmospheric boundary layer.

  • Received June 24, 2014.
  • Accepted July 16, 2014.
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