Spatial Memory and Societies

Bonnell et al. (2013) Emergent Group Level Navigation: An Agent-Based Evaluation of Movement Patterns in a Folivorous Primate

In an intriguing compilation of GIS, ecology, and primatology, Bonnell et al. (2013) seek to model the complex foraging behaviour of the red colobus monkey in order to uncover patterns of spatial memory. The agent-based modeling used in this study exemplifies one of the cutting edge applications of GIS technologies ­– predictive science.

This is my first academic encounter with spatial memory but the concept encompasses something that I have often thought about i.e. how people (and animals) navigate the world around them. In this article, social rules were the primary factor in determining step length – different societies behaved differently. It would be interesting to research how spatial memory in human societies differs between age groups, cultures, urban-rural settings, etc. as I suspect that they may differ greatly. It also makes me wonder how GIS technologies such as Google Maps have altered spatial memory in humans.

There were a few omissions made in this study, although I suspect these were due to the issue of complexity. Firstly, by limiting the foraging simulations to six months the researchers neglected the seasonal variability of resources. Developing this component of modeling could identify how animal movements and feeding habits change throughout the year. Secondly, it would be interesting to add the component of competition into the simulation to account for rival groups, interspecies relationships, and human activity. Thirdly, as colobus monkeys are a tree-dwelling species, it would be interesting to see if the addition of a z-axis would affect the results of the simulation (e.g. would movement more closely resemble Euclidean memory, would this affect group safety). Keep in mind that these recommendations come from someone without a background in computer modeling, primate behavioural studies, or ecology, so I am uncertain as to what extent any of the abovementioned components could be added to the simulation or if they would in fact enhance the study in any measurable way.



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