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Keywords:

  • Animal migration;
  • food structuring;
  • global change;
  • individual-based model;
  • polar environment

Abstract

The distribution of poikilotherms is determined by the thermal structure of the marine environment that they are exposed to. Recent research has indicated that changes in migration phenology of beluga whales in the Arctic are triggered by changes in the thermal structure of the marine environment in their summering area. If sea temperatures reflect the spatial distribution of food resources, then changes in the thermal regime will affect how homogeneous or clumped food is distributed. We explore, by individual-based modelling, the hypothesis that changes in migration phenology are not necessarily or exclusively triggered by changes in food abundance, but also by changes in the spatial aggregation of food. We found that the level of food aggregation can significantly affect the relationship between the timing of the start of migration to the winter grounds and the total prey capture of individuals. Our approach strongly indicates that changes in the spatial distribution of food resources should be considered for understanding and quantitatively predicting changes in the phenology of animal migration.