From migration to nomadism: movement variability in a northern ungulate across its latitudinal range


  • Corresponding Editor: J. R. Goheen.


Understanding the causes and consequences of animal movements is of fundamental biological interest because any alteration in movement can have direct and indirect effects on ecosystem structure and function. It is also crucial for assisting spatial wildlife management under variable environmental change scenarios. Recent research has highlighted the need of quantifying individual variability in movement behavior and how it is generated by interactions between individual requirements and environmental conditions, to understand the emergence of population-level patterns. Using a multi-annual movement data set of 213 individual moose (Alces alces) across a latitudinal gradient (from 56° to 67° N) that spans over 1100 km of varying environmental conditions, we analyze the differences in individual and population-level movements. We tested the effect of climate, risk, and human presence in the landscape on moose movements. The variation in these factors explained the existence of multiple movements (migration, nomadism, dispersal, sedentary) among individuals and seven populations. Population differences were primarily related to latitudinal variation in snow depth and road density. Individuals showed both fixed and flexible behaviors across years, and were less likely to migrate with age in interaction with snow and roads. For the predominant movement strategy, migration, the distance, timing, and duration at all latitudes varied between years. Males traveled longer distances and began migrating later in spring than females. Our study provides strong quantitative evidence for the dynamics of animal movements in response to changes in environmental conditions along with varying risk from human influence across the landscape. For moose, given its wide distributional range, changes in the distribution and migratory behavior are expected under future warming scenarios.