Ontogeny of long distance migration

Authors

  • Rebecca Scott,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Biosciences, College of Science, Swansea University, Swansea SA2 8PP United Kingdom
    2. Future Ocean, Department of Evolutionary Ecology of Marine Fishes, GEOMAR, Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research, Dusternbrookerweg 20, Kiel 24105 Germany
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  • Robert Marsh,

    1. Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre, University of Southampton, Southampton SO14 3ZH United Kingdom
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  • Graeme C. Hays

    1. Department of Biosciences, College of Science, Swansea University, Swansea SA2 8PP United Kingdom
    2. Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, Warrnambool, Victoria 3280 Australia
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  • Corresponding Editor: M. C. Wimberly.

Abstract

The movements of some long-distance migrants are driven by innate compass headings that they follow on their first migrations (e.g., some birds and insects), while the movements of other first-time migrants are learned by following more experienced conspecifics (e.g., baleen whales). However, the overall roles of innate, learned, and social behaviors in driving migration goals in many taxa are poorly understood. To look for evidence of whether migration routes are innate or learned for sea turtles, here for 42 sites around the world we compare the migration routes of >400 satellite-tracked adults of multiple species of sea turtle with ∼45 000 Lagrangian hatchling turtle drift scenarios. In so doing, we show that the migration routes of adult turtles are strongly related to hatchling drift patterns, implying that adult migration goals are learned through their past experiences dispersing with ocean currents. The diverse migration destinations of adults consistently reflected the diversity in sites they would have encountered as drifting hatchlings. Our findings reveal how a simple mechanism, juvenile passive drift, can explain the ontogeny of some of the longest migrations in the animal kingdom and ensure that adults find suitable foraging sites.

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