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The fractal primate: interdisciplinary science and the math behind the monkey.

MacIntosh AJJ

Drawing upon a large body of literature comprising various applications of fractal theory and complexity science in ecology and evolution, I illustrate that animal behavior can be characterized usefully by its fundamentally fractal nature in both time and space. I begin with an introduction to fractal geometry and then provide examples of how and why its analysis has been employed in biological/ecological studies. I examine the three main approaches used to model animal behavior through the fractal lens, and show how (i) the Lévy flight foraging hypothesis, (ii) spatial fractal dimension estimates and (iii) fractal time have each complemented more traditional investigations of animal behavior and provided unique insights into ecological processes. I then focus on illustrating how fractal analysis can be used as a sensitive indicator of behavioral or environmental ‘quality’. I argue that complex behavior sequences both result from and are necessary to cope with environmental heterogeneity. This body of work supports the hypotheses that complexity is biologically adaptive and that complexity loss, i.e. greater periodicity or stereotypy, is not only indicative of altered or impaired condition but may in addition carry with it significant fitness consequences. Throughout this essay, I attempt to emphasize that by extending beyond our traditional disciplinary boundaries, behavioral ecologists stand to gain unprecedented insight into complex phenomena in the lives and activities of organisms all around us. It is my sincere hope that the ideas presented herein encourage future interdisciplinary research into the role of complexity in behavioral organization, and what that might mean for ecological processes.

Primate Research 30:95-119.


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