Benefits of migration in relation to nutritional condition and predation risk in a partially migratory moose population


  • Corresponding Editor: C. C. Wilmers.


The costs and benefits of alternative migratory strategies are often framed in the context of top-down and bottom-up effects on individual fitness. This occurs because migration is considered a costly behavioral strategy that presumably confers explicit benefits to migrants in the form of either decreased predation risk (predation risk avoidance hypothesis) or increased nutrition (forage maturation hypothesis). To test these hypotheses, we studied a partially migratory moose (Alces alces) population and contrasted explicit measures of predation risk (i.e., offspring survival) and nutrition (i.e., accumulation of endogenous energy reserves) between resident and migratory subpopulations. We relied on data collected from migratory and nonmigratory radio-marked moose (n = 67) that inhabited a novel study system located in coastal Alaska between 2004 and 2010. In this area, 30% of the population resides year-round on a coastal foreland area, while 48% migrate to either a small island archipelago or a subalpine ridge system (the remainder exhibited one of six different low-occurrence strategies). Overall, we determined that accumulation of body fat during the growing season did not differ between migratory or resident modalities. However, calf survival was 2.6–2.9 times higher for individuals that migrated (survival, islands = 0.49 ± 0.16 [mean ± SE], n = 35; ridge = 0.52 ± 0.16, n = 33) than those that did not (survival, resident = 0.19 ± 0.08, n = 57). Our results support the predation risk avoidance hypotheses, and suggest that migration is a behavioral strategy that principally operates to reduce the risk of calf predation and does not confer explicit nutritional benefits. We did not directly detect trade-offs between predation risk and nutrition for migratory individuals. Yet we identify an indirect life history mechanism that may mildly dampen the apparent fitness benefits of migration. The proximate factors accounting for differences in migration-specific neonate survival are likely linked to accessibility of refugial habitats for moose at local and landscape scales, landscape factors that affect hunting efficacy of large carnivores, and interactions with rural human communities. Conservation of ungulate populations can be aided by integrating knowledge about migratory behavior, life history strategies, and factors that alter ungulate vulnerability, particularly those induced by human activity.