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Newton's laws of notion predict animal movement.

As deforestation, climate change, and other pressures threaten habitats, how might chimpanzees adapt? An interdisciplinary research team has turned to the physical laws that govern matter to explore one facet of this question: how the animals will cluster and travel through their territory as the terrain they share with other members of their species shrinks.

To simulate chimp behavior, the scientists created a computer model based on equations normally used to describe the movement of atoms and molecules in a confined space. "We thought it would be interesting to see if we could use the kind of modeling we use for physics to model the behavior of animals," says physicist Surajit Sen. "We were pleasantly surprised that it works. Our model shows how competition for an important resource--food--affects how chimpanzees spread out in a given area."

The simulation successfully has replicated certain chimpanzee behaviors reported in the academic literature that researchers have witnessed in the wild. The model could be expanded in the future to predict how a shrinking habitat might affect chimp populations.

As physicist Matthew Westley explains, the modeling technique the team used was fairly simple. "We modeled each chimp as a particle that feels attraction or repulsion to other objects in the vicinity. We decided that all chimps would be attracted to food and repulsed by other chimps who compete for food."

The key equation the simulation employed was Sir Isaac Newton's Second Law of Motion, which states that Acceleration = Force/Mass. Chimps were the masses in the equation, while the forces consisted of attraction to food and repulsion from other chimps. By assigning values to each force and determining the distance at which the forces would begin to affect the chimps, the team was able to simulate the direction and speed at which animals would move in relationship to food and each other.

The research was published in Nature's Longest Threads: New Frontiers in the Mathematics and Physics of Information in Biology, a book edited by two researchers at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore, India.

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Title Annotation:Habitats
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2015
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