From single steps to mass migration: The problem of scale in the movement ecology of the serengeti wildebeest

Colin J. Torney, J. Grant, Thomas A. Morrison, Iain D. Couzin, Simon Asher Levin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


A central question in ecology is how to link processes that occur over different scales. The daily interactions of individual organisms ultimately determine community dynamics, population fluctuations and the functioning of entire ecosystems. Observations of these multiscale ecological processes are constrained by various technological, biological or logistical issues, and there are often vast discrepancies between the scale at which observation is possible and the scale of the question of interest. Animal movement is characterized by processes that act over multiple spatial and temporal scales. Second-by-second decisions accumulate to produce annual movement patterns. Individuals influence, and are influenced by, collective movement decisions, which then govern the spatial distribution of populations and the connectivity of meta-populations. While the field of movement ecology is experiencing unprecedented growth in the availability of movement data, there remain challenges in integrating observations with questions of ecological interest. In this article, we present the major challenges of addressing these issues within the context of the Serengeti wildebeest migration, a keystone ecological phenomena that crosses multiple scales of space, time and biological complexity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20170012
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1746
StatePublished - May 19 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


  • Migration
  • Scale
  • Wildebeest


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