Rats say: Manhattan rules!

January 12, 2009
"Rat tracks" made by rats in two city plans: Manhattan-style (left) and New Orleans-style (right. In both plans rats cover the same distance, but rats in the "Manhattan" grid cover more territory. Credit: AFTAU

If you leave it up to the rats, New York City beats New Orleans any day.

This surprising finding comes from new research by Tel Aviv University zoologists and geographers, who are working together to invent a novel way to test urban designers' city plans. Instead of using humans as guinea pigs, the scientists went to their nearby zoo and enlisted lab rats to determine the functionality of theoretical and existing plans.

They've already tried their theory in the academic setting by blindfolding human biology students to confirm that human orientation strategies and instincts are similar to those of their fellow four-legged city dwellers.

"We've found that routes taken by rats and other members of the animal kingdom tend to converge at attractive landmarks, the same way people are attracted, for example, to the Arc de Triumph in Paris," says Prof. David Eilam from TAU's Department of Zoology. "Our research takes the art used by humans to create their towns and cities and turns it back to the animal world for testing. We can look at how rats will react to a city's geography to come up with an optimal urban plan."

A Rat Race on a Straight Track

By building mini-models of city layouts at the Tel Aviv University Research Zoo, Prof. Eilam and his colleagues found that grid-like city layouts ― like that of Manhattan ― are much more rat- and people-friendly than cities with unstructured and winding streets, like those in New Orleans.

"We've built an environment to test city plans, so that 'soul-less' and ineffective new neighborhoods won't be built," Prof. Eilam says. "Using our model of rat behavior, it takes just a few minutes for city planners to test whether a new plan will work. It's a way to avoid disasters and massive expense." He expects that the choices the rats make will eventually be optimized and plugged into a computer tool.

Prof. Eilam and Prof. Juval Portugali, a geography researcher, based their study on the fact that rats build cognitive maps to help orient themselves in nature. In essence, this cognitive "rat map" works to help them know where they are in space and time.

"Manhattan" Navigable, "New Orleans" Disorienting

"We put rats in relatively large areas with objects and routes resembling those in Manhattan," explains Prof. Eilam. The rats, he found, do the same things humans do: They establish a grid system to orient themselves. Using the grid, the rats covered a vast amount of territory, "seeing the sights" quickly. In contrast, rats in an irregular plan resembling New Orleans' failed to move far from where they started and didn't cover much territory, despite travelling the same distances as the "Manhattan rats."

Prof. Eilam and his colleagues say that urban planners can use this rat behavior model to test how the public will respond to new objects -- such as tall buildings or cooperative housing -- in the real world.

Source: American Friends of Tel Aviv University

Explore further: Archaeologist discovers Maya royal burial

Related Stories

Archaeologist discovers Maya royal burial

January 8, 2016

Tom Garrison was four hours away from camp down a bumpy jungle road—headed into the city to get treated for poisonwood exposure—when he got the call from his co-director Edwin Román.

Where do rats move in after disasters? This team finds out

November 6, 2015

Imagine you're a researcher working outdoors in a New Orleans summer. It's 100 degrees, and you're going door-to-door in neighborhoods where people have grown tired of being studied by outsiders in the decade since Hurricane ...

Scientists find city rats are loyal to their 'hoods'

May 26, 2009

In the rat race of life, one thing is certain: there's no place like home. Now, a study just released in Molecular Ecology finds the same is true for rats. Although inner city rodents appear to roam freely, most form distinct ...

Recommended for you

Record for fastest data rate set

February 11, 2016

A new record for the fastest ever data rate for digital information has been set by UCL researchers in the Optical Networks Group. They achieved a rate of 1.125 Tb/s as part of research on the capacity limits of optical transmission ...

Optical rogue waves reveal insight into real ones

February 10, 2016

(Phys.org)—Rogue waves in the middle of the ocean often appear out of nowhere and vanish just as quickly. But in their short lifetimes, they can generate walls of water 15 to 30 meters (50 to 100 feet) high, crashing down ...

Sneezing produces complex fluid cascade, not a simple spray

February 11, 2016

Here's some incentive to cover your mouth the next time you sneeze: New high-speed videos captured by MIT researchers show that as a person sneezes, they launch a sheet of fluid that balloons, then breaks apart in long filaments ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.