Optimal migratory behavior in spatially-explicit seasonal environments

Timothy C. Reluga, Allison K. Shaw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Mass migrations of vertebrate and arthropod species have long been perceived as some of the most mystical phenomena in nature. And for eons, we have been asking ourselves why animals migrate. Ecologically, migration provides benefits in currencies of survival, growth, and reproduction, allowing animals to exploit environmental heterogeneities in space and time. Yet for a given environment, different species respond with different behaviors - some travelling large distances, while others shelter in place. Part of the explanation of this distinction is the physiological differences between species and their ability to move. But is physiological difference a necessary pre-condition? Or can environmental heterogeneity itself be sufficient for bifurcations in movement behavior? In this paper, we address this last question using a model for the evolution of migration in a density-independent, spatially-explicit setting when movement is costly based on the harvesting a single resource that varies in space and time. We use optimal control methods to calculate the optimal movement patterns in several different situations. In this framework, optimal movement strategies can be classified into six different regimes, based on the cost of movement, the strength and scale of seasonal resource variation, and the degree of trade-off between short-term and long-term benefits. We show that a migratory niche emerges in response to inseparable spatio-temporal environmental heterogeneity, and that this niche can bifurcate from changes to the resource distribution without need for physiological divergence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3359-3378
Number of pages20
JournalDiscrete and Continuous Dynamical Systems - Series B
Issue number10
StatePublished - Dec 1 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Discrete Mathematics and Combinatorics
  • Applied Mathematics


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