Person:
Martin, Hans

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  • Data package
    Data from: Study "Ya Ha Tinda elk project, Banff National Park, 2001-2020 (females)"
    (2020-07-24) Hebblewhite, Mark; Merrill, Evelyn; Martin, Hans; Berg, Jodi E.; Bohm, Holger; Eggeman, Scott L.
    (1) Migratory animals are predicted to enhance lifetime fitness by obtaining higher quality forage and/or reducing predation risk compared to non‐migratory conspecifics. Despite evidence for behavioural flexibility in other taxa, previous research on large mammals has often assumed that migratory behaviour is a fixed behavioural trait. (2) Migratory behaviour may be plastic for many species, although few studies have tested for individual‐level flexibility using long‐term monitoring of marked individuals, especially in large mammals such as ungulates. (3) We tested variability in individual migratory behaviour using a 10‐year telemetry data set of 223 adult female elk (Cervus elaphus) in the partially migratory Ya Ha Tinda population in Alberta, Canada. (4) We used net squared displacement (NSD) to classify migratory strategy for each individual elk‐year. Individuals switched between migrant and resident strategies at a mean rate of 15% per year, and migrants were more likely to switch than residents. We then tested how extrinsic (climate, elk/wolf abundance) and intrinsic (age) factors affected the probability of migrating, and, secondly, the decision to switch between migratory strategies. (5) Over 630 individual elk‐years, the probability of an individual elk migrating increased following a severe winter, in years of higher wolf abundance, and with increasing age. (6) At an individual elk level, we observed 148 switching events of 430 possible transitions in elk monitored at least 2 years. We found switching was density‐dependent, where migrants switched to a resident strategy at low elk abundance, but residents switched more to a migrant strategy at high elk abundance. Precipitation during the previous summer had a weak carryover effect, with migrants switching slightly more following wetter summers, whereas residents showed the opposite pattern. Older migrant elk rarely switched, whereas resident elk switched more frequently to migrate at older ages. (7) Our results show migratory behaviour in ungulates is an individually variable trait that can respond to intrinsic, environmental and density‐dependent forces. Different strategies had opposing responses to density‐dependent and intrinsic drivers, providing a stabilizing mechanism for the maintenance of partial migration and demographic fitness in this population.