Evidence of Lévy walk foraging patterns inhuman hunter-gatherers

David A. Raichien, Brian M. Wood, Adam D. Gordon, Audax Z.P. Mabuiia, Frank W. Marlowe, Herman Pontzer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

217 Scopus citations


When searching for food, many organisms adopt a superdiffusive,scale-free movement pattern called a Levy walk, which is considered optimal when foraging for heterogeneously located resourceswith little prior knowledge of distribution patterns [ViswanathanGM, da Luz MGE, Raposo EP, Stanley HE (2011) The Physics ofForaging: An Introduction to Random Searches and BiologicalEncounters]. Although memory of food locations and higher cognition may limit the benefits of random walk strategies, no studiesto date have fully explored search patterns in human foraging.Here, we show that human hunter-gatherers, the Hadza of northernTanzania, perform Levy walks in nearly one-half of all foragingbouts. Levy walks occur when searching for a wide variety of foodsfrom animal prey to underground tubers, suggesting that, evenin the most cognitively complex forager on Earth, such patternsare essential to understanding elementary foraging mechanisms.This movement pattern may be fundamental to how humans experience and interact with the world across a wide range of ecological contexts, and it may be adaptive to food distribution patterns onthe landscape, which previous studies suggested for organisms withmore limited cognition. Additionally, Levy walks may have becomecommon early in our genus when hunting and gathering aroseas a major foraging strategy, playing an important role in theevolution of human mobility.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)728-733
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Brownian motion
  • Levy flight
  • Optimal foraging
  • Scale invariance
  • Superdiffusion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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