Body Size and Behavior


Allometry of Behavior in Spatially Patterned Resource Landscapes

Behavioral plasticity is constrained by morphology and physiology; because these often scale allometrically with body size, so should behavior. Indeed, the allometry of behavior is predicted to emerge from the interaction of (a) size-varying traits that influence animal performance (e.g., energy requirements), and (b) biotic and abiotic habitat attributes, such as the distribution of resources and microclimates. This project integrates observational, experimental, molecular, and modeling approaches to shed new light on the mechanisms that underpin animal behavior and population dynamics in an African savanna ecosystem that is both spatially and seasonally heterogeneous. The study system (Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique) is characterized by spatially patterned termite mounds that govern the distribution of vegetation, nutrients, and microclimates at broad spatial scales, and that are heavily used by three congeneric antelope species (bushbuck, nyala, and kudu, all Tragelaphus spp.) that vary five-fold in body size. This combination of factors presents an ideal opportunity to study the effects of body size and resource distribution on behavior and population dynamics. The unifying concepts of allometric scaling and resource heterogeneity mean that our insights will be generalizable and applicable across ecosystems, including to the management of North American wildlife populations. Broader impacts include development of an immersive, interdisciplinary field course offered to both U.S. and Mozambican students, broad public dissemination of research results via scientifically rigorous short films, and collaboration with park officials to develop effective wildlife-management policies.

Study Location: Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique.

Timeline: This project was initiated in the fall of 2017 in collaboration with Dr. Rob Pringle and Dr. Corina Tarnita at Princeton University. Two PhD students are currently working on the project: Hallie Walker in the Long Lab and Justine Atkins in the Tarnita lab.

   Bushbuck

Bushbuck

   Nyala

Nyala

   Greater Kudu

Greater Kudu