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We outline a general scheme for migration that applies across taxa, incorporates the several varieties of migration, and includes all levels of biological organization, from genes to populations. The scheme links the environment, pathways, traits, and genes, and highlights the selective forces that shape and maintain migratory adaptation. We endorse an individual-based behavioral definition of migration that allows an objective distinction between migration and other forms of movement. We recognize migration as an adaptation to resources that fluctuate spatiotemporally either seasonally or less predictably, and note that it is often preemptive. Migration plays a central role in the spatial dynamics of mobile populations, and is largely distinct in both form and function from the within-population mixing arising from postnatal dispersal and from the interpatch movements characteristic of metapopulations. We call for more interaction between biologists studying different taxa and different forms of movement, and between behaviorists and population ecologists.
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For the public and for many biologists, the word
migration evokes visions of “heroic”movements of whole
populations over long distances. When barn swallows
(Hirundo rustica) appear over an English village in April,
when Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) leap the rapids of
an Alaskan river, or when southern right whales (Eubaleana
australis) come to the Great Australian Bight to calve, both lay
observers and biologists recognize that what is occurring is
a special type of animal movement, and one that forms an es-
sential component of the life history and ecological niche of
the organism. Migrating animals are found in all major
branches of the animal kingdom, their journeys take place in
a variety of media, and they move by flying, swimming, walk-
ing, or drifting. Despite this variety,however, it is apparent that
we are dealing with a single biological phenomenon that
transcends taxon, form, and environment but that relates
directly to one of the most universal and defining traits of an-
imals: their mobility.
If one looks across taxa, it is apparent that the term
migration is also used to describe movements that differ con-
siderably from the seasonally synchronized relocations of
populations between the “two worlds”(Greenberg and Marra
2005) of breeding grounds and wintering area (Rankin 1985,
Dingle 1996). Insects of the same or different generations may
migrate several times within a breeding season, and fish such
as herring may move in circuits between breeding, feeding,
and wintering sites (Dingle 1996). Entomologists engaged in
quite a vigorous debate in the early 1980s about the nature of
migration (Kennedy 1985, Taylor 1986). An important point
that emerged from this dialogue was that migration involved
two levels, the behavioral applying to individuals and the
ecological applying to populations. Thus a broad conceptual
understanding of migration encompasses both its mechanism
and its function. Biologists studying various taxa have de-
veloped rich insights into individual (physiological, behavioral,
genetic) and population (ecological, evolutionary) aspects of
the phenomenon. This is perhaps particularly evident in
work on birds, fish,and insects. Their visibility and their of-
ten spectacular journeys have made birds favorite subjects,
while the economic value of species like herring and salmon
has been a driving force in studying fish migration. The eco-
nomic impact of pest species has fostered studies of insects,
and their short life spans and the relative ease with which lab-
oratory cultures can be maintained make this group especially
suitable for experimental work, including genetic investiga-
tions using artificial selection and crossing (Dingle 2001,
2006). Our principal aim here is to illumine and distinguish
the various aspects of the migration phenomenon and to draw
together from different taxa and levels of analysis a com-
mon viewpoint that takes into account the diversity of mi-
gration and provides a framework for further analysis of its
proximate basis, its ecology, and its evolution.
Hugh Dingle (e-mail: is a professor emeritus in the
Department of Entomology and Center for Population Biology, University of
California, Davis, CA 95616. He is currently an honorary research consultant
in the School of Integrative Biology, University of Queensland, Brisbane,
Queensland 4072, Australia.V. Alistair Drake (e-mail:
is a senior lecturer in the School of Physical, Environmental, and Mathemat-
ical Sciences, University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force
Academy, Canberra, ACT 2600, Australia. © 2007 American Institute of
Biological Sciences.
What Is Migration?
We outline a general scheme for migration that applies across taxa, incorporates the several varieties of migration, and includes all levels of
biological organization, from genes to populations. The scheme links the environment, pathways, traits, and genes, and highlights the selective forces
that shape and maintain migratory adaptation. We endorse an individual-based behavioral definition of migration that allows an objective
distinction between migration and other forms of movement. We recognize migration as an adaptation to resources that fluctuate spatiotemporally
either seasonally or less predictably, and note that it is often preemptive. Migration plays a central role in the spatial dynamics of mobile populations,
and is largely distinct in both form and function from the within-population mixing arising from postnatal dispersal and from the interpatch
movements characteristic of metapopulations. We call for more interaction between biologists studying different taxa and different forms of
movement, and between behaviorists and population ecologists.
Keywords: animal movement, migration, behavior, population, natural selection February 2007 / Vol. 57 No. 2 • BioScience 113
The scope of migration
Drawing on dictionary definitions (Taylor 1986, Gatehouse
1987) and the biological and natural history literature, we sug-
gest that the word migration (as applied to animals) can
evoke four different but overlapping concepts: (1) a type of
locomotory activity that is notably persistent, undistracted,
and straightened out; (2) a relocation of the animal that is on
a much greater scale, and involves movement of much longer
duration, than those arising in its normal daily activities;
(3) a seasonal to-and-fro movement of populations between
regions where conditions are alternately favorable or un-
favorable (including one region in which breeding occurs);
and (4) movements leading to redistribution within a spatially
extended population.
These interpretations encapsulate some significantly dif-
ferent perspectives about what migration entails. First,types
1 and 2 relate to individual organisms, while types 3 and 4 ex-
plicitly concern populations. Second, type 1 describes a
process, whereas the remaining three types describe out-
comes (for individuals or populations) of locomotory activ-
ity by individuals. Third, types 2 and 3, but not 1 and 4,
invoke a time or spatial scale.The process-versus-outcome dis-
tinction lies at the heart of the debate among entomologists
about whether migration should be defined for individuals
(“behaviorally”) or for populations (“ecologically”; Kennedy
1985, Taylor 1986,Gatehouse 1987). The former approach ap-
pears more compatible with our contemporary understand-
ing of the mode of action of natural selection, namely, that
it acts principally on individuals (and their genes). In contrast,
the population perspective reveals the function of migration
and the source of natural selection. The “two worlds” view-
point, derived largely from birds, has tended to draw atten-
tion especially to questions concerning function. In the insect
literature, the equivalent focus has been on travel between
“temporary” habitats, such as ephemeral ponds, early suc-
cessional habitat stages, or successively senescing host plants
(Southwood 1962, Denno et al.1991). In both cases, migra-
tion is implicitly recognized to be an adaptation driven by the
transitory availability and changing location of resources.
(We note in passing a renewed interest in selection at higher
organizational levels than the individual [Wilson 1997] and
also modeling results linking such selection to spatially ex-
tended populations [Werfel and Bar-Yam 2004],and we rec-
ognize that some migration is undertaken in social groups and
involves communication [van Noordwijk et al. 2006],but our
perspective here remains focused on individual selection.)
The behavior-versus-ecology dichotomy can now be rec-
ognized as one part of a broader spectrum extending both
across processes occurring in individuals and across those oc-
curring in populations. Much research has been undertaken
on the underlying morphological and physiological adapta-
tions that make migratory behavior possible (McKeown
1984, Dingle 1996, Berthold et al. 2003, Ramenofsky and
Wingfield 2007) and on the adjustments migrants make to
complete their journeys successfully (Åkesson and Heden-
ström 2007). There has been some investigation of the genetic
basis that underlies these adaptations (Han and Gatehouse
1993, Dingle 2001, van Noordwijk et al. 2006, Pulido 2007,Roff
and Fairbairn 2007). The questions of how migration systems
have evolved (and perhaps led to some instances of speciation;
Helbig 2003, Jahn et al. 2004, Irwin and Irwin 2005) and
how current systems are subject to natural selection (Dingle
2001) take us beyond the scope of a strictly ecological view-
point. Following Rogers (1983),we note that migration, like
other biological phenomena, can be viewed at a series of or-
ganizational levels, from the molecular to the evolutionary,
and that while we can describe events occurring at one level,
such as the behavior of the individual migrant, in terms of
lower-level attributes, we must seek explanations for them by
identifying their functions at higher levels. The hierarchy of
viewpoints is in fact closed, as the highest level—natural se-
lection—acts directly on the lowest—the genes underlying the
migratory adaptations.
In areas of biology outside behavior and ecology, the term
“migration” has been used in contexts involving a longer
(usually) time frame. Thus biogeographers often refer to the
range expansions of faunas or individual species as migration,
an example being the northward extension of ranges follow-
ing the retreat of glaciers at the end of the ice ages. Popula-
tion geneticists incorporate the term m, indicating “migration,
into their equations to describe gene flow—the exchange of
genes among populations by whatever means, including but
not limited to migration as we consider it here. These inter-
esting phenomena fall outside the scope of this article, which
is concerned with the movements of individuals and the
short-term consequences of these movements for populations.
Varieties of migration
Migration can take a number of forms and has been de-
scribed by biologists in different ways. We list many of these
migratory patterns in table 1, classifying them by whether the
focus is on the organism, the spatial or temporal attributes,
or the medium in which migration takes place. Migrants are
often classified as either obligate or facultative, depending on
whether they always migrate or do so only in a proximate re-
sponse to current deterioration of local conditions. In prac-
tice, however, the distinction is often blurred. In partial
migration,a fraction of the population remains either in its
breeding or its nonbreeding area while the remainder moves
away (see Jahn et al.2004 for some variants), while in differ-
ential migration there are differences in the migration patterns
of older and younger individuals or of the two sexes.
114 BioScience • February 2007 / Vol. 57 No. 2
Table 1. Variation in patterns of migration.
Category Pattern
Organism Obligate, facultative, partial, differential
Space To-and-fro, round-trip (loop), one-way, altitudinal,
Time Seasonal, irruptive
Medium Diadromic, drift (including devices)
To-and-fro migration is what we call here “two worlds”;
round-trip migration is a variant of this in which animals re-
turn to the general breeding area from which they originated
but may stage their movements through a succession of non-
breeding areas, and perhaps follow different paths on the
outward and return journeys (loop migration). One-way mi-
grations,found mainly in insects and marine larvae, carry an-
imals from a location where they were produced to another
where they breed and produce the next generation (or gen-
erations) before dying; a succession of such one-way move-
ments through a series of breeding areas may form a
multiple-generation round trip. Vertical migrations occur
between different water depths (and are actually a form of
what we term “commuting”[see below] rather than migra-
tion), and altitudinal migrations occur between different ter-
restrial elevations. In nomadism, migration does not follow
a regular pattern or route but links temporary breeding sites
that are located where conditions are ephemerally favorable.
Annual migrations are round trips synchronized with the
annual cycle, and seasonal migrations are particular stages of
these annual journeys. Irruptions are occasional, irregular
movements of a significant proportion of a population be-
yond its usual breeding or nonbreeding area.Diadromic mi-
grations take fish (and some crustaceans) between fresh and
salt water.Another distinction is between movements achieved
primarily by transport on a wind or current (sometimes re-
ferred to as drift) and those resulting essentially from loco-
motion through a medium. Special evolved devices, such as
the ballooning threads of spiders and some larval insects, are
sometimes employed to promote drift (Dingle 1996).
A holistic view of migration
Recognition that the various phenomena comprising mi-
gration occur across a series of organizational levels helps
greatly to distinguish them, refine our separate knowledge of
each, and develop both descriptive and explanatory under-
standings by drawing from lower and higher levels (Rogers
1983). Nevertheless,migration is a single phenomenon, and
we should aim to recognize its unitary structure. This has been
attempted by Drake and colleagues (1995) in the form of a
conceptual model of what they termed a “migration system
(figure 1). The model incorporates both components and
processes (the changes in and linkages between components)
and explicitly considers the environment in which the migrant
population survives as well as the migrants’ responses and
adaptations to it. The four system components are as follows:
(1) A migration arena comprising the environment (includ-
ing biotic elements) to which the migrants are adapted; (2)
a migration syndrome, which is the suite of traits enabling mi-
gratory activity—this suite comprising both locomotory ca-
pabilities and a set of responses (or nonresponses) to
environmental cues that schedule and steer the locomotory
activity; (3) the genetic complex that underlies the syndrome;
and (4) a population trajectory (or its long-term average, the
population pathway) comprising the route followed by the mi-
grants, the timing of travel along it, the points along it where
migration temporarily ceases, and the times when these
points are occupied for breeding and other key life stages.
The model incorporates the ultimate (selective) and prox-
imate factors acting on migration (the arena), the response
to natural selection in the phenotype and genotype of migrants
(the syndrome and its genetic complex), and the population
consequences in terms of both selection and current condi-
tions (the trajectory and pathway). Its aim was to identify and
describe qualitatively how a migratory adaptation functions
by employing movement to exploit a changing and spatially
extensive environment, and how a capacity for appropriate
movements is maintained within a population. A demon-
stration of the model was the examination of migratory
adaptation in a relatively well-researched moth species, the
oriental armyworm (Mythimna separata) (Drake and Gate-
house 1996). Gauthreaux (1980) provides both a compre-
hensive list of the geophysical factors, short- and long-term,
that contribute to the migration arena and numerous exam-
ples of migrant species and their arena-specific adaptations.
Migration as a form of individual movement
Although the outcome of migration can be viewed as a pop-
ulation process, it is useful to focus first on the migratory be-
havior of individuals, as this underlies the collective aspects.
Further,because natural selection acts primarily on individ-
uals, understanding the function of migration, and how mi-
gration systems are maintained and evolve, will ultimately
Articles February 2007 / Vol. 57 No. 2 • BioScience 115
Figure 1. Holistic conceptual model of a migration sys-
tem. Circles indicate the four primary components, gray
arrows the principal processes that connect them, and
open arrows the primary modes of environmental influ-
ence. The short process arrow represents the impact of the
population on its habitat, including exhaustion of re-
sources and introduction of pathogens. Natural selection
occurs through differential mortality and through the
process of spatial partitioning, in which different pheno-
types steer individuals (and the genes they carry) to dif-
ferent destinations. Adapted from Drake and colleagues
concern the genotypes and phenotypes of individual mi-
grants (Dingle 2006).
Movement and resources. Animals employ movement for a
variety of purposes, but probably most frequently in con-
nection with the use of resources. These include food, shel-
ter,and mates, all of which are included within an individual’s
home range, which is in turn located—along with many oth-
ers—within a habitat that provides the necessary requirements
for breeding or maintenance (or both). Movements can be di-
vided into those that occur generally within the home range
and those that take the individual more or less permanently
beyond it (Dingle 1996). The former include several types of
behavior that have been called “station keeping” (Kennedy
1985, Dingle 1996), the most prominent of which is foraging.
Foraging is concerned with finding and appropriating re-
sources (a food item, say, or a mate) and is characteristically
meandering and repetitive on short timescales and small
spatial scales, the animal changing course frequently as it
finds and moves between items. It has an extended form,
which we term “commuting,in which longer to-and-fro or
round-trip journeys are made regularly (often daily) to spa-
tially separated resource patches,roost sites, and other local-
ities where specific activities occur. Dramatic examples include
the mass daily vertical movements of plankton and the
several-thousand-kilometer foraging round trips extending
over several days made by albatrosses (Diomedea spp.) and
other seabirds between nesting islands and food locales.
Two types of movement take the individual “permanently”
beyond the home range; these are ranging and migration.
Ranging implies an exploratory component and takes the or-
ganism beyond the current home range to settle eventually
in a new one. We define the behavior as one that ceases once
a suitable new home range (a resource) is found, and a large
literature (Gandon and Michalakis 2001, Bullock et al.2002)
suggests it is characteristic especially of young birds and
mammals that must find space away from their parents to
avoid competition and inbreeding. Migration is movement
away from the home range that does not cease,at least not ini-
tially,when suitable resources or home ranges are encountered.
Eventually, however, the migrant is primed to respond to
appropriate resources. This sequence of inhibition and then
priming of response assures that the migrant escapes from a
region of deteriorating habitats, as would occur for
temperate-zone birds in the autumn, for example,and extends
its movement to a region where habitats will remain or are be-
coming favorable (Kennedy 1985, Dingle 1996; see the dis-
cussion of preemption, below). In short-lived insects, the
abandonment of home range by migrants is in fact perma-
nent; in long-lived vertebrates, migrants with strong
philopatric tendencies (i.e., tending to stay in or return to their
native territories or regions) may return to the home range
the following season. Thus repeat migrations are often a con-
sequence of long life spans. Ecologically,migration occurs be-
tween habitat regions, whereas ranging occurs between habitat
units within a habitat region. There will most likely be cases
where the distinction between migration and ranging is not
obvious, and these may repay careful examination from both
behavioral and ecological perspectives.
The qualitative characterization of movement behaviors
draws on both form and function, but it seems probable that
objective distinctions could be made from observations of the
organism’s lifetime track, the time series of its successive
locations (Baker 1978). With modern tracking technologies,
such an analysis is increasingly practicable, at least for larger
vertebrates (Kenward et al. 2002). Foraging, ranging, and
migration might appear as separate (probably broad) peaks
in a spectrum of the track’s straightness, or the two longer
range movements (or just migration) might give the spectrum
a “fat tail.As an alternative to relying on observations of the
organism’s location (an “outcome” perspective), it is at least
in principle possible to telemeter observations of the organ-
ism’s ongoing behavior—including its responses or lack of
response to the resources it encounters—and obtain an
objective characterization based on a “process”viewpoint.
The distinctions between foraging/commuting, ranging,
and migration are most easily recognized when a home range
is readily identifiable. When an animal is nomadic, and home
ranges and breeding areas and times are unpredictable, the tra-
jectories of the three types of movement may overlap to
some degree. In any case,the distinctions are to be recognized
from the patterns of relocations or behaviors and not by their
absolute scale: One species’s ranging may be as extended
(temporally,spatially,or both) as another’s migration. The scale
characteristic of migration is more apparent when considered
in relative terms. The spatial extent of an animal’s migrations
is generally greater than that of any other type of movement
it makes, and its periodicity is generally that of one or the other
of the two longest timescales most animals experience, the an-
nual cycle and the animal’s lifetime.Animals that complete
only a single migration cycle (or only part of one) include
almost all insects, Pacific salmon,and the African black oyster-
catcher (Haematopus moquini). For example, in the latter
species, newly fledged young migrate from their birthplace on
the south coast of South Africa to lagoons on the west coast
of Namibia, where they remain for two to three years before
returning to their natal area to breed without ever migrating
again (Hockey et al. 2003).
Migratory behavior and the migration syndrome. Because
individuals manifest their capacity for migration through
behavior, it is through behavioral traits in particular (al-
though not exclusively) that natural selection will act to shape
migration. Of the various organizational levels, the behavioral
is the highest that concerns individuals. Behavior is also ob-
servable, although in wild populations where migration is high
in the atmosphere, at night, or over or within oceans, the chal-
lenge is considerable. In insects, laboratory studies using
wind tunnels (Hardie and Powell 2002) or flight mills or
balances (Cooter 1983, Han and Gatehouse 1993) are more
practicable and allow experimentation as well as observation.
It is now possible to study birds in wind tunnels as well
116 BioScience • February 2007 / Vol. 57 No. 2
(Pennycuick et al. 1997). On the basis of a pioneering study
of the aphid (Aphis fabae), in which he monitored locomo-
tory activity and responses to resources in a laboratory flight
chamber, J. S. Kennedy developed a characterization of the
special nature of migration (summarized in Kennedy 1966 and
Dingle 1996) and defined it as follows: “Migratory behavior
is persistent and straightened out movement effected by
the animal’s own locomotory exertions or by its active
embarkation upon a vehicle. It depends on some temporary
inhibition of station keeping responses but promotes their
eventual disinhibition and recurrence”(Kennedy 1985, p. 8).
The “vehicle” refers to transport on the wind or in water
currents. As with many insects, A. fabae’s movements are
primarily windborne, but Kennedy emphasized that the
aphids nevertheless had to fly actively to get into the airstream
and to keep themselves aloft. The sentence about station-
keeping responses summarizes Kennedy’s experimental find-
ings that at the initiation of migratory flight, and during its
early stages, the aphids would ignore an environmental cue
(a young bean leaf) to which they would normally respond
by settling and starting to feed, but that after some period of
flight they would again become responsive (even hyperre-
sponsive) to this. This is a refined expression of the frequent
observation, made for a variety of taxa from butterflies to
African ungulates, that migratory movement is characteris-
tically undistracted (Dingle 1996). Kennedy stressed that
because the inhibition of station keeping is temporary, it can
be repeatedly switched on and off. Thus a migrant may switch
between migration and foraging while en route, as in the
well-known stopovers of migratory birds. Further emphasis
on the distinction between the two types of behavior was noted
in Kennedy’s (1985) definition of foraging as “reiterative
locomotory activity that is readily interrupted by an en-
counter with a resource item of one particular kind.
As we have noted,migratory behavior itself relies on adap-
tations at lower levels, especially adaptations of physiology and
morphology (Åkesson and Hedenström 2007, Ramenofsky
and Wingfield 2007) resulting in differences—sometimes
obvious, sometimes subtle—between similar migrant and
nonmigrant species. As well as responses to cues for initiat-
ing and terminating locomotion, the migration syndrome in-
cludes endogenous mechanisms for priming and inhibiting
these responses, and metabolic and hormonal shifts necessary
to prepare the migrant for its journey (Dingle 2006). These
traits are integrated into the organism’s life history; for ex-
ample, it is not only feeding that is inhibited but also matu-
ration and reproduction (Kennedy 1985, Ramenofsky and
Wingfield 2007). Morphological traits that increase power and
efficiency,such as increased wing lengths in migratory birds
and insects and enhanced streamlining in fish, are also con-
sidered part of the syndrome (Dingle 2006, Åkesson and
Hedenström 2007). It is interesting that migration syndromes
have evolved repeatedly and across many taxa. Phylogenetic
studies fail to reveal a deeply embedded ancestral pattern
(Piersma et al. 2005); rather, syndromes appear to arise as
needed from traits that already exist to serve other contexts,
a classic example being flight.
Underlying the migration syndrome is a genetic complex
(figure 1) that incorporates both genes and genetic architec-
ture (van Noordwijk et al. 2006,Pulido 2007, Roff and Fair-
bairn 2007). This too is accessible to experimentation through
artificial selection and crossing trials, mostly in insects (Han
and Gatehouse 1993, Dingle 2001) but also in birds such as
the black-cap warbler (Sylvia atricapilla; Pulido and Berthold
2003). Such experiments have demonstrated correlations
between migration-related traits and between migration and
reproduction, both indicative of a coadapted suite of traits.
Other expected properties of syndromes, such as trade-offs
and the suboptimal adaptations that these imply, are dis-
cussed by Sih and colleagues (2004), Pulido (2007), and Roff
and Fairbairn (2007).
The function of migration
Southwood (1962) showed that in insects migration is asso-
ciated with impermanent habitats. When resources are tem-
porary in relation to generation time, migration and/or
dormancy are required strategies (Southwood 1962,1977, Din-
gle 1996). Southwood (1977) and Solbreck (1978) later made
clear how changes in habitat favorability in both time and
space (now versus later, and here versus elsewhere) drive the
evolution of migration and dormancy. Migration can be
viewed as an adaptation specific to arenas in which changes
in habitat quality in different regions occur asynchronously
so that movement allows a succession of temporary resources
to be exploited as they arise. It thus involves both escape and
At a minimum, a habitat must enable survival; better-
quality habitats will allow development, physiological se-
questering of resources, and breeding. Individuals unable to
locate a sequence of such habitats will fail to produce offspring.
The members of a migrant population are therefore directly
subject to natural selection by the arena through which they
travel. Selection will arise from the pattern and timing of
the development and decline of favorable habitats, from the
incidence of inclement conditions, and, for weak flying and
drifting migrants especially, from the incidence of winds and
currents in appropriate directions. Selection for locomotor ca-
pabilities adequate for traversing potentially lethal interven-
ing spaces—for example, deserts and oceans for terrestrial
organisms—and for appropriate responses to directional
and timing cues is likely to be intense (Åkesson and Heden-
ström 2007). Population pathways can be expected to match
those features of the arena that affect the migrants in essen-
tially all their properties, including spatial and temporal scale,
direction and seasonality,and degree of variability. At high lat-
itudes, the migratory adaptation will be primarily to the pre-
dictable warm–cold seasonal variations; pathways can be
expected to show little spatial variance and to be closely syn-
chronized with the annual cycle. Temperate-zone bird mi-
grants are the classical example (Newton and Dale 1996). If
climate changes, timing of migration and resource availabil-
Articles February 2007 / Vol. 57 No. 2 • BioScience 117
ity may become mismatched and the population may decline
(Both et al. 2006).At the other extreme, in semiarid regions,
where erratic rainfall is the main determinant of habitat
favorability and temperatures are rarely limiting, trajectories
may vary greatly; examples include desert locusts (Schistocerca
gregaria), quelea birds (Quelea quelea; Cheke and Tratalos
2007), and Australian bird migrants (Griffioen and Clarke
As noted above, one key component of a strategy for sur-
viving in a spatiotemporally varying arena is preemption, in
which habitats are abandoned before their quality has declined
too seriously.Preemptive departure may be adaptive for at least
three reasons: (1) if an animal waits until quality is poor, it
may not be able to accumulate fuel for migration, or habitats
at locations within its range may also have deteriorated;
(2) if it starts a new breeding attempt, its offspring may be
insufficiently developed to depart before conditions become
lethal; and (3) early departure may provide it with the ad-
vantage of being an initial colonizer of a habitat that is just
becoming favorable rather than a late arrival facing established
competitors. Preemption requires precisely the temporary in-
hibition of station-keeping responses observed by Kennedy
(1985) in his aphid experiments and incorporated into his de-
finition of migration. In appropriate circumstances, the ad-
vantages conferred by preemptive departure will favor
migration over extended foraging or ranging as an adaptation.
Preemption cannot rely on proximate cues, such as low tem-
perature or food shortage, to initiate migration, and selection
therefore acts on the migrants’ responses either to surrogates
that forecast habitat deterioration (such as photoperiod or
increased population density) or to endogenous rhythms or
“internal clocks” (Ramenofsky and Wingfield 2007).
Migration and populations
For much of its history, ecology has focused more on popu-
lation dynamics over time than on changes in spatial distri-
butions. In this perspective,changes in population size arise
both through births and deaths and through emigration and
immigration to and from external sinks and sources (Thomas
and Kunin 1999).By recognizing the spatial dimensions and
adding movement to the dynamics, it becomes evident that
a cohort of individuals and their descendants form a popu-
lation regardless of where they are, and follow a trajectory
through both space and time (Taylor and Taylor 1977, Solbreck
1985, Taylor 1986, Drake et al. 1995).Viewed from this per-
spective, emigration and immigration fuse, and the move-
ments of individuals maintain the structure and cohesion of
populations and determine their connectivity (Webster and
Marra 2005, Cheke and Tratalos 2007). Movement is now seen
as a key process in its own right and not just an alternative
mechanism contributing to effective birth and death rates.
Depending on the extent of spatial variation and of devel-
opmental desynchronization, temporarily distinct subpopu-
lations may form and remain isolated for one or more
generations. The population trajectory then consists of a
number of strands that may split and merge through
space and time, and when mapped, the resulting three-
dimensional pathway forms a tangled reticulum that has
been analogized to a fern stele (Taylor and Taylor 1977).
Analysis of population trajectories reveals the processes
leading to a reticular form. Classic examples are various
species of locust and any of several species of nomadic and
seminomadic birds (Cheke and Tratalos 2007). Population
trajectories of such nomads typically differ between years
as resources vary, but often an overall to-and-fro trend in
the pathway can be discerned (Griffioen and Clarke 2002,
Deveson et al. 2005). The distributions of aphids and other
insects over the British Isles display reticular patterns over
seasons and years, and populations are resupplied each spring
by infusions from the continent (Taylor 1986). On a smaller
scale, migration allows the milkweed bug (Lygaeus equestris)
to exploit isolated habitat islands of a few square meters each
on limestone outcrops in Sweden (Solbreck 1985). With
migration, accompanied by temporary suppression of re-
production, the bugs track resources (including single milk-
weed plants), avoid intraspecific competition,and overwinter
in microclimatically suitable diapause sites among the rocks.
The case of L. equestris raises interesting questions con-
cerning the role of movements in the dynamics of subdivided
populations or metapopulations. Metapopulations are the
subject of a large literature (Hanski 1999, Ovaskainen and
Hanski 2004) that concerns populations spread over an en-
semble of separated habitats in which colonization and ex-
tinction of subpopulations occur, with connectivity between
subpopulations maintained by movement. The principal ap-
plication to conservation in fragmented landscapes is easily
appreciated. While movements between fragments are often
referred to as “migration” in the metapopulation literature
(e.g., Ovaskainen and Hanski 2004), most are probably what
we call ranging. Although it is unlikely that migration (in our
sense) contributes to structure in most metapopulations so
far studied (but see Cheke and Tratalos 2007), it would be in-
teresting to know how frequently migratory behavior occurs
within metapopulations in nature. It may be worth con-
sidering “migratory metapopulations” as a special case;
this would be compatible with characteristics of nomadic
migrants such as locusts and quelea birds (Cheke and
Tratalos 2007). In any event,the focus has usually been on the
outcomes of movements in the form of colonizations and the
contribution of departures to local extinctions, and field data
are usually based on mark–recapture methods or surveys
rather than direct observation of movement behavior. We
agree with Thomas and Kunin (1999) that studies of spatio-
temporal population dynamics need to examine behavioral
processes as well as patterns and outcomes.
In “two worlds”and other round-trip migratory pathways
in which migrants return repeatedly to a breeding area,
population-genetic and demographic processes may be little
different from those of a resident population. Both distant and
local environments will of course determine year-to-year
variation in mortality and breeding condition. Young that have
not bred previously will most likely seek a breeding site by
118 BioScience • February 2007 / Vol. 57 No. 2
ranging over suitable habitat either before departing or after
completing their round-trip annual migration (Winkler
2005), but the behavior of settling is not well studied. In
some species, animals from different parts of the breeding
range occupy different nonbreeding areas, either in a “leapfrog”
pattern across latitudes or in a “chain” pattern that may be
either latitudinal or longitudinal; there may also be movements
within the nonbreeding range (Bell 2005). The adaptation that
steers the migrants along their pathways is presumably coded
genetically,so offspring of crosses between members of dif-
ferent subpopulations may be poorly adapted to find either
parental breeding site and therefore selected against. Such
processes may help to maintain subspecies or even lead to full
speciation (Irwin and Irwin 2005). Alternatively, extensive mix-
ing may limit the development of complex or differentiated
migration pathways, as seems to be the case with monarch
butterflies (Danaus plexippus; Brower and Boyce 1991,
Shephard et al. 2002) and Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida
brasiliensis mexicana; Russell et al. 2005).
In addition to describing their dynamics in time and space,
populations can be characterized by the mean distance among
the individuals within them (Southwood 1981). When ani-
mals are attracted to each other, they congregate; if they
gather in the same habitat, they aggregate. In either case,
the mean distance among individuals decreases, at least on a
local scale. In contrast, behavioral responses can result in
animals in a population moving apart, in which case they
disperse. Foraging or commuting, ranging, and migration can
all be processes causing either aggregation/congregation or
dispersal (Kennedy 1985,Taylor 1986, Dingle 1996). However,
the term “dispersal” is also used in the rather different sense
of leaving one’s place of birth to breed elsewhere (“postnatal
dispersal”) and of movements between successive breeding
places (“breeding dispersal”; Greenwood and Harvey 1982,
Bullock et al. 2002). These movements are probably in most
cases what we term “ranging,” but they could also be migra-
tion (e.g., as in Kennedy’s [1966] aphids). Although they
increase the distance between young and their parents, and
between the young of a clutch or litter if departures are in dif-
ferent directions, the movements of unrelated young will
cross, and young that end up in a particular locality will have
arrived from different directions—an example of conver-
gent movement. Overall, the population experiences little
change in the mean distance between individuals; it therefore
does not exhibit dispersal in the original sense. The functions
of these movements appear to be reoccupation of vacant
habitat units, readjustments to local changes in habitat
quality, and avoidance of kin competition and inbreeding
(Gandon and Michalakis 2001). At the population level, they
result in mixing, the internal redistribution of individuals that
leaves the location and spatial extent of the population un-
changed. Population mixing can also occur with migration
(e.g., monarch butterflies, bats), but it need not do so (e.g.,
some “two worlds”bird migrations); with migration, however,
there is displacement as well as mixing.
Conclusions: What is migration,
and what studies are needed?
We note first that a definition of a trait or syndrome in biol-
ogy should provide clear indication that it can respond to nat-
ural selection. With few exceptions, that means the definition
must be couched in terms of individuals. This is no less true
for migration. Selection has produced specific behaviors and
responses to the environment to solve common problems that
distinguish migration from other forms of movement
(Kennedy 1985,Dingle 1996). At the same time, it is equally
clear that migration is an important population phenome-
non. Individual behaviors produce a population outcome, and
that outcome provides the selection acting back on individ-
uals. Although migration can be defined only for individuals
(behavior,syndromes), it can be described in terms of popu-
lation outcomes (dynamics, trajectories, displacements; table
1; Gatehouse 1987). The answer to the question “What is
migration?” thus includes all aspects of a multilevel syn-
drome (Rogers 1983), its consequences for the dynamics of
populations, and the relationships between them (figure 1).
A great advantage of the definition of migration from
Kennedy (1985) cited above is that it invites direct empirical
investigation at behavioral and lower organizational levels,
potentially leading to several productive lines of research.
There are explicit hypotheses to test using, for example,
straightforward (at least in principle) experiments of a
stimulus–response type. Although not all aspects of the syn-
drome may be present in any one migrant, experiments
should still distinguish migratory from other types of move-
ment behavior by revealing the suppression of responses to
resources. An obligate migrant will continue moving and
bypass breeding sites or food while on its trajectory. Well-
known migrants, such as arctic terns (Sterna paradisea) and
salmon (Oncorhynchus and Salmo spp.),have been observed
to do just that (see table 17-1 in Dingle 1996), and, interest-
ingly,so have some young rodents (called “innate dispersers”
by Howard 1960). Like any good hypothesis, Kennedy’s de-
finition identifies means by which it can be falsified. Thus it
can be modified, improved, or replaced, but to accomplish
these, any proposed alternative must distinguish individual
migrants from those undertaking other kinds of movement
and provide clear means, at least implicitly, by which empir-
ical observation or experiment can make the distinction. If de-
finitions are too narrow, we need to know what characteristics
should be included to broaden them. What is obvious is that
analyses of migration as an explicit behavioral syndrome are
all too rare. We do not minimize the methodological diffi-
culties in performing such analyses, but neither do we apol-
ogize for the complexities presented by migration.
Our second observation is that studies of animal move-
ments, including migration, need to be more broadly based.
Students of migration need to focus more on migration as a
behavioral, ecological, and evolutionary phenomenon rather
than as an event that occurs in a particular taxon. The use of
movement to exploit separated and ephemeral habitats and
resources transcends particular species and taxonomic groups,
Articles February 2007 / Vol. 57 No. 2 • BioScience 119
and its investigation should do likewise. Much could be
learned and heuristic approaches developed from a com-
parative view. There is also little linkage between migration
research and bodies of work on foraging, dispersal, and spa-
tially extended populations or metapopulations. Such isola-
tion does not appear defensible. Each field of study has
strengths that can contribute to others. For example, as already
noted, flight-mill and selection-experiment approaches to
studying migratory behavior, pioneered by entomologists, are
now being employed on birds.A behavioral viewpoint might
broaden perspectives in fields (e.g., postnatal “dispersal,
metapopulations) in which trajectories and populations are
currently the focus. Research on insect migration would in
turn benefit from an infusion of population-level theory and
modeling, as entomologists now rarely venture into these
areas. One obstacle to such cross-disciplinary interactions will
surely be differing terminologies. Our third observation is that
imprecise and ambiguous terminology—including the core
terms “migration”and “dispersal”—is systemic across this field
and is hindering the development of the conceptual frame-
works needed to advance understanding and to design re-
vealing experiments and fieldwork.
Our final observation is that the field needs to recognize
that there may be different kinds and degrees of migration.
We suspect that “classic” examples of migration may be ex-
treme cases and the exception rather than the rule (even for
birds). Investigations of migratory adaptations that seem less
complete than these (or in which migration is facultative
rather than obligatory) might prove particularly revealing.
Such studies might, for example, allow examination of trade-
offs between migration and alternative strategies. Can
migration be combined with other strategies, or is it always
categorically distinct? A case in point is the integration of
stopovers into migratory trajectories. Are there species or
populations in which the types of outcome normally associ-
ated with migration are achieved through some sort of directed
foraging or ranging? How distinct are the boundaries
between migration and ranging, or between behavioral adap-
tations leading to dispersal as opposed to aggregation? These
questions are applicable to a range of organisms; to answer
them will require the ecumenical approach we advocate.
H. D. wishes to thank Meron Zalucki for support, discussion,
and suggestions; Matt Watts for technical support and assis-
tance; and the University of New South Wales for travel fund-
ing in support of manuscript preparation. H. D.’s long-term
research on migration has been funded by the US National
Science Foundation.V. A.D. acknowledges funding support
from the Australian Research Council.
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Articles February 2007 / Vol. 57 No. 2 • BioScience 121
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The capacity of mobile organisms to migrate adds a new dimension to Nicholson's concept of population regulation through density dependence. Migrants can vacate a habitat as conditions there become limiting, and colonise another that may provide, at least temporarily, a more favourable environment for population growth. Such processes occur frequently among the insects, where they have been the subject of concerted research because many of the migratory species are serious pests. A series of insights gained over the last few decades now begins to allow a holistic description of a 'migration system'. The migration system of one extensively studied insect population, the oriental armyworm in east Asia, is described in terms of the physical and biotic 'arena' the population inhabits, the reticulate 'trajectory' it follows, the behavioural and physiological migration 'syndrome' that steers it along this trajectory, and the 'genetic complex' that underlies this syndrome. The system is seen to function through a series of processes, including the action of contemporary natural selection, that link and maintain the system components. This example provides insights into the persistence and regulation of highly mobile organisms in environments in which relatively rapid spatio-temporal variations occur.
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Migration is a key process in the population dynamics of many insects, including some of the most damaging pests. Multidisciplinary research into the importance of migration, in recent decades, has produced many new insights. This book reviews current understanding of the ecological, behavioural, physiological and genetic bases of insect migration. The first part describes migration systems in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and America, with an emphasis on the role of regional weather and climate. The second part considers insects adaptation to migration; it covers: aerodynamics and energetics; the integration of migration in insect life cycles; environmental and genetic regulation of migratory potential; and the evolutionary implications of habitat heterogeneity and variability. The book then addresses the application of this knowledge to operational pest forecasting.
The reader of this comprehensive presentation benefits from an outstanding overview of all aspects of the fascinating phenomenon of bird migration. The book is written by leading experts from around the world. The text summarizes reviews and discussions of the most recent hypotheses. In doing so, it covers the entire research field from phenomenology through to ecology, physiology, control mechanisms, orientation, evolutionary aspects and conservation measures. It also examines the most modern methodological approaches including, satellite trakcking, molecular techniques or stable isotope investigations and envisages forthcoming developments in the course of global warming.
Since the very beginning of bird migration research in the early 18th century, a number of intriguing observations have made people doubt whether migration was entirely determined by the environment. For instance, the activity of caged birds deprived of environmental cues during the migratory season, the migration of young birds without experience and without the guidance of their parents (e.g. cuckoos) and the departure from the breeding grounds in summer when conditions on the breeding grounds are still favourable could not be explained without assuming internal factors controlling these behaviours. In the 19th and early 20th century, these and other observations were explained by assuming that migratory birds possess an innate migration instinct. Until the rediscovery of Mendel’s laws and the foundation of modern genetics in the early 20th century, “genetic” research on avian migration was concerned with providing evidence for the existence of this migration instinct, and specifying which components of migratory behaviour are innate and which are acquired by experience or learning. These arguments were exclusively based on observational evidence. In the 1930s first experimental studies were conducted to explore the inheritance of migratory behaviour (e.g. Välikangas 1933; Frieling and Valikangas 1934; Nice 1934, 1937; Putzig 1938), giving birth to the field of genetics of bird migration.