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Published April 2000 | Published
Journal Article Open

Earthquake Prediction by Animals: Evolution and Sensory Perception


Animals living within seismically active regions are subjected episodically to intense ground shaking that can kill individuals through burrow collapse, egg destruction, and tsunami action. Although anecdotal and retrospective reports of animal behavior suggest that although many organisms may be able to detect an impending seismic event, no plausible scenario has been presented yet through which accounts for the evolution of such behaviors. The evolutionary mechanism of exaptation can do this in a two-step process. The first step is to evolve a vibration-triggered early warning response which would act in the short time interval between the arrival of P and S waves. Anecdotal evidence suggests this response already exists. Then if precursory stimuli also exist, similar evolutionary processes can link an animal's perception of these stimuli to its P-wave triggered response, yielding an earthquake predictive behavior. A population-genetic model indicates that such a seismic-escape response system can be maintained against random mutations as a result of episodic selection that operates with time scales comparable to that of strong seismic events. Hence, additional understanding of possible earthquake precursors that are presently outside the realm of seismology might be gleaned from the study of animal behavior, sensory physiology, and genetics. A brief review of possible seismic precursors suggests that tilt, hygroreception (humidity), electric, and magnetic sensory systems in animals could be linked into a seismic escape behavioral system. Several testable predictions of this analysis are discussed, and it is recommended that additional magnetic, electrical, tilt, and hygro-sensors be incorporated into dense monitoring networks in seismically active regions.

Additional Information

© 2000 Seismological Society of America. Manuscript received 13 July 1998. I thank C. Allen, E. Brodsky, L.K. Hutton, H. Kanamori, D. Prothero, Tom Heaton, and Tim Raub for helpful comments. Work on magnetoreception in my laboratory has been supported generously by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI-WO-4307-03), and partially by the NIH and the Fetzer Foundation.

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