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Movement Ecology: Unifying Theory Of How Plants And Animals Move From One Place To Another

December 2008Movement ecology is a developing academic pursuit, combining expertise in a variety of fields, including biology, ecology, botany, environmental science, physics, mathematics, virology and others. It involves the study of how microorganisms, plants and animals travel from one place to another, sometimes for great distances and in highly surprising ways.

This movement is a crucial component of almost any ecological and evolutionary process, including major problems associated with habitat fragmentation, climate change, biological invasions, and the spread of pests and diseases.

The current edition of the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the USA (PNAS), contains a 76-page special feature on movement ecology, edited by Prof. Ran Nathan, who heads the Movement Ecology Laboratory in the Department of Evolution, Systematics and Ecology at the Hebrew University’s Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences.*

Modern movement research is extensive, estimated to yield nearly 26,000 scientific papers over the last decade. However, this research is characterized by a broad range of specialized scientific approaches, each developed to explore a different type of movement carried out by a specific group of organisms. A cohesive framework that would serve as a unifying theme for developing a general theory of organism movement was lacking.

Movement ecology is a unifying paradigm for studying all types of movement involving all organisms. It places movement itself as the focal theme, and, by providing a unifying framework and common tools, aims at promoting the development of an integrative theory of organism movement for better understanding the causes, mechanisms, patterns and consequences of all movement phenomena.

The conceptual framework of movement ecology asserts that four basic components are needed to describe the mechanisms underlying movement of all kinds: the organism's internal state, which defines its intrinsic motivation to move; the motion and navigation capacities representing, respectively, the organism's basic ability to move and to affect where and when to move; and the broad range of external factors affecting movement. The resulting movement path is the fifth and final component of the proposed framework.

*To promote this subject, Prof. Nathan initiated the establishment of a year-long (2006-2007) international project at the Institute for Advanced Studies of the Hebrew University. The results of that project, as well as contributions of other scientists from around the world, comprise the 13 articles included in the PNAS movement ecology special feature.

Source : Hebrew University of Jerusalem


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