Locomotion in Biological Systems

Daniel.Zitterbart [ at ] awi.de


One of the common properties of fauna is their ability to move (Dickinson, Farley et al. 2000). Most animals are capable of relocating their position, and locomotion is often a key to survival. Animals forage, escape, and migrate. This is true not only for multi-cellular but also for single cell organisms (Murphy, Drone et al. 1985). It is even the case for the individual cells of a multi-cellular organism. The range of movements that I considered in this thesis ranges from the micron scale, such as the movement of neutrophils, to hemispherical scales, as in the case for the seasonal migration of birds and mammals. Moreover, movements can be un-coordinated and solitary, such as the movements of some cancer cells (Yamaguchi, Wyckoff et al. 2005), or they can be coordinated between several hundreds or thousands of individuals (flocking birds or fish) (Feder 2007). The quantification of movement gives important information about the underlying molecular processes in cells, which encompasses the field of molecular biology, or the complex behavior of (groups of) organisms, which encompasses the field of ethology. My studies are governed by the overarching question regarding the characteristics and driving forces of motion across several orders of magnitude. I investigated the locomotion inside cells at the nanometer scale, locomotion of individual cells at the micron scale, movements of single penguins inside a colony at the scale of centimeters to meters, movements of whales at a scale up to several kilometers, and the possibility to study movement of migratory and invasive species, at the scale of kilometers to tens of thousands of kilometers (Figure 1). The work presented in this thesis was performed in several phases; the first years concentrated on the biophysical aspects of cell migration and traction generation (Metzner, Raupach et al. 2007; Raupach, Zitterbart et al. 2007; Mierke, Kollmannsberger et al. 2008; Mierke, Zitterbart et al. 2008; Rösel, Brábek et al. 2008; Oakes, Patel et al. 2009; Mierke, Kollmannsberger et al. 2010); later, the focus switched to the macroscopic world, including a 15 month stay at Neumayer station, Antarctica, during which the idea of investigating the collective dynamics of emperor penguins (Zitterbart, Wienecke et al. 2011) arose. Subsequently, I investigated the local locomotion of whales in the presence of large ships (Burkhardt, Kindermann et al. 2011) (i.e. RV Polarstern). This study required the development of a technology to automatically detect whales (Zitterbart, Kindermann et al. 2011; Zitterbart, Kindermann et al. 2012). In parallel, I started a global biodiversity assessment project (anymals+plants) to investigate the movement and distribution of animal or plant populations, and to unveil trends in the spreading of species e.g. due to global climate changes.

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Thesis (PhD)
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Not peer-reviewed
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Zitterbart, D. (2013): Locomotion in Biological Systems PhD thesis,


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