Aim To demonstrate how the interrelations of individual movements form large-scale population-level movement patterns and how these patterns are associated with the underlying landscape dynamics by comparing ungulate movements across species.
Locations Arctic tundra in Alaska and Canada, temperate forests in Massachusetts, Patagonian Steppes in Argentina, Eastern Steppes in Mongolia.
Methods We used relocation data from four ungulate species (barren-ground caribou, Mongolian gazelle, guanaco and moose) to examine individual movements and the interrelation of movements among individuals. We applied and developed a suite of spatial metrics that measure variation in movement among individuals as population dispersion, movement coordination and realized mobility. Taken together, these metrics allowed us to quantify and distinguish among different large-scale population-level movement patterns such as migration, range residency and nomadism. We then related the population-level movement patterns to the underlying landscape vegetation dynamics via long-term remote sensing measurements of the temporal variability, spatial variability and unpredictability of vegetation productivity.
Results Moose, which remained in sedentary home ranges, and guanacos, which were partially migratory, exhibited relatively short annual movements associated with landscapes having very little broad-scale variability in vegetation. Caribou and gazelle performed extreme long-distance movements that were associated with broad-scale variability in vegetation productivity during the peak of the growing season. Caribou exhibited regular seasonal migration in which individuals were clustered for most of the year and exhibited coordinated movements. In contrast, gazelle were nomadic, as individuals were independently distributed and moved in an uncoordinated manner that relates to the comparatively unpredictable (yet broad-scale) vegetation dynamics of their landscape.
Main conclusions We show how broad-scale landscape unpredictability may lead to nomadism, an understudied type of long-distance movement. In contrast to classical migration where landscapes may vary at broad scales but in a predictable manner, long-distance movements of nomadic individuals are uncoordinated and independent from other such individuals. Landscapes with little broad-scale variability in vegetation productivity feature smaller-scale movements and allow for range residency. Nomadism requires distinct integrative conservation strategies that facilitate long-distance movements across the entire landscape and are not limited to certain migration corridors.