The extra mile: Ungulate migration distance alters the use of seasonal range and exposure to anthropogenic risk

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Partial migration occurs across a variety of taxa and has important ecological and evolutionary consequences. Among ungulates, studies of partially migratory populations have allowed researchers to compare and contrast performance metrics of migrants versus residents and examine how environmental factors influence the relative abundance of each. Such studies tend to characterize animals discretely as either migratory or resident, but we suggest that variable migration distances within migratory herds are an important and overlooked form of population structure, with potential consequences for animal fitness. We examined whether the variation in individual migration distances (20–264 km) within a single wintering population of mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) was associated with several critical behavioral attributes of migration, including timing of migration, time allocation to seasonal ranges, and exposure to anthropogenic mortality risks. Both the timing of migration and the amount of time animals allocated to seasonal ranges varied with migration distance. Animals migrating long distances (150–250 km) initiated spring migration more than three weeks before than those migrating moderate (50–150 km) or short distances (<50 km). Across an entire year, long-distance migrants spent approximately 100 more days migrating compared to moderate- and short-distance migrants. Relatedly, winter residency of long-distance migrants was 71 d fewer than for animals migrating shorter distances. Exposure to anthropogenic mortality factors, including highways and fences, was high for long-distance migrants, whereas vulnerability to harvest was high for short- and moderate-distance migrants. By reducing the amount of time that animals spend on winter range, long-distance migration may alleviate intraspecific competition for limited forage and effectively increase carrying capacity. Clear differences in winter residency, migration duration, and risk of anthropogenic mortality among short-, moderate-, and long-distance migrants suggest fitness trade-offs may exist among migratory segments of the population. Future studies of partial migration may benefit from expanding comparisons of residents and migrants, to consider how variable migration distances of migrants may influence the costs and benefits of migration.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title The extra mile: Ungulate migration distance alters the use of seasonal range and exposure to anthropogenic risk
Series title Ecosphere
DOI 10.1002/ecs2.1534
Volume 7
Issue 10
Year Published 2016
Language English
Publisher Ecological Society of America
Contributing office(s) Coop Res Unit Seattle
Description e01534; 11 p.
First page 1
Last page 11
Country United States
State Wyoming
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