Food searching strategies of animals are key to their success in heterogeneous environments. The optimal search strategy may include specialized random walks such as Levy walks with heavy power-law tail distributions, or persistent walks with preferred movement in a similar direction. We have investigated the movement of the soil amoebae Dictyostelium searching for food. Dictyostelium cells move by extending pseudopodia, either in the direction of the previous pseudopod (persistent step) or in a different direction (turn). The analysis of ~4000 pseudopodia reveals that step and turn pseudopodia are drawn from a probability distribution that is determined by cGMP/PLA2 signaling pathways. Starvation activates these pathways thereby suppressing turns and inducing steps. As a consequence, starved cells make very long nearly straight runs and disperse over ~30-fold larger areas, without extending more or larger pseudopodia than vegetative cells. This ‘win-stay/lose-shift’ strategy for food searching is called Starvation Induced Run-length Extension. The SIRE walk explains very well the observed differences in search behavior between fed and starving organisms such as bumble-bees, flower bug, hoverfly and zooplankton.
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