To breed or not to breed: a model of partial migration



This article is corrected by:

  1. Errata: Erratum Volume 121, Issue 10, 1713, Article first published online: 24 July 2012

A. K. Shaw, Dept of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton Univ., Princeton, NJ 08544, USA. E-mail:


Migration is used by a number of species as a strategy for dealing with a seasonally variable environment. In many migratory species, only some individuals migrate within a given season (migrants) while the rest remain in the same location (residents), a phenomenon called ‘partial migration’. Most examples of partial migration considered in the literature (both empirically and theoretically) fall into one of two categories: either species where residents and migrants share a breeding ground and winter apart, or species where residents and migrants share an overwintering ground and breed apart. However, a third form of partial migration can occur when non-migrating individuals actually forgo reproduction, essentially a special form of low-frequency reproduction. While this type of partial migration is well documented in many taxa, it is not often included in the partial migration literature, and has not been considered theoretically to date. In this paper we present a model for this partial migration scenario and determine under what conditions an individual should skip a breeding opportunity (resulting in partial migration), and under what conditions individuals should breed every chance they get (resulting in complete migration). In a constant environment, we find that partial migration is expected to occur when the mortality cost of migration is high, and when individuals can greatly increase their fecundity by skipping a year before breeding. In a stochastic environment, we find that an individual should skip migration more frequently with increased risk of a bad year (higher probability and severity), with higher mortality cost of migration, and with lower mortality cost of skipping. We discuss these results in the context of empirical data and existing life history theory.