Divergent migration routes reveal contrasting energy-minimization strategies to deal with differing resource predictability

Document Type


Publication Title

Movement Ecology

Publication Date







Arctic, Migration, Migratory corridors, Move-persistence, Narwhal, State-space models




Background: Seasonal long-distance movements are a common feature in many taxa allowing animals to deal with seasonal habitats and life-history demands. Many species use different strategies to prioritize time- or energy-minimization, sometimes employing stop-over behaviours to offset the physiological burden of the directed movement associated with migratory behaviour. Migratory strategies are often limited by life-history and environmental constraints, but can also be modulated by the predictability of resources en route. While theory on population-wide strategies (e.g. energy-minimization) are well studied, there are increasing evidence for individual-level variation in movement patterns indicative of finer scale differences in migration strategies. Methods: We aimed to explore sources of individual variation in migration strategies for long-distance migrators using satellite telemetry location data from 41 narwhal spanning a 21-year period. Specifically, we aimed to determine and define the long-distance movement strategies adopted and how environmental variables may modulate these movements. Fine-scale movement behaviours were characterized using move-persistence models, where changes in move-persistence, highlighting autocorrelation in a movement trajectory, were evaluated against potential modulating environmental covariates. Areas of low move-persistence, indicative of area-restricted search-type behaviours, were deemed to indicate evidence of stop-overs along the migratory route. Results: Here, we demonstrate two divergent migratory tactics to maintain a similar overall energy-minimization strategy within a single population of narwhal. Narwhal migrating offshore exhibited more tortuous movement trajectories overall with no evidence of spatially-consistent stop-over locations across individuals. Nearshore migrating narwhal undertook more directed routes, contrasted by spatially-explicit stop-over behaviour in highly-productive fjord and canyon systems along the coast of Baffin Island for periods of several days to several weeks. Conclusions: Within a single population, divergent migratory tactics can achieve a similar overall energy-minimizing strategy within a species as a response to differing trade-offs between predictable and unpredictable resources. Our methodological approach, which revealed the modulators of fine-scale migratory movements and predicted regional stop-over sites, is widely applicable to a variety of other aquatic and terrestrial species. Quantifying marine migration strategies will be key for adaptive conservation in the face of climate change and ever increasing human pressures.