Size-dependent tradeoffs in seasonal freshwater environments facilitate differential salmonid migration

Dermond, Philip; Mélian, Carlos J.; Brodersen, Jakob (2019). Size-dependent tradeoffs in seasonal freshwater environments facilitate differential salmonid migration. Movement Ecology, 7(1) BioMed Central 10.1186/s40462-019-0185-1

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Background: Seasonal spatio-temporal variation in habitat quality and abiotic conditions leads to animals migrating between different environments around the world. Whereas mean population timing of migration is often fairly well understood, explanations for variation in migratory timing within populations are often lacking. Condition-dependent tradeoffs may be an understudied mechanism that can explain this differential migration. While fixed condition-specific thresholds have been identified in earlier work on ontogenetic niche shifts, they are rare in differential migration, suggesting that thresholds in such systems can shift based on temporally variable environmental conditions. Methods: We introduced a model based on size-specific tradeoffs between migration and growth in seasonal environments. We focused on optimal migratory timing for first-time migrants with no knowledge of an alternative habitat, which is a crucial stage in the life history of migratory salmonids. We predicted that optimal timing would occur when individuals move from their natal habitats based on a seasonally variable ratio of predation and growth. When the ratio becomes slightly more favorable in the alternative habitat, migratory movement can occur. As it keeps shifting throughout the season, the threshold for migration is variable, allowing smaller individuals to move at later dates. We compared our model predictions to empirical data on 3 years of migratory movement of more than 800 juvenile trout of varying size from natal to feeding habitat. Results: Both our model and empirical data showed that large individuals, which are assumed to have a lower predation risk in the migratory habitat, move earlier in the season than smaller individuals, whose predicted predation-to-growth ratio shifted to being favorable only later in the migratory season. Our model also predicted that the observed difference in migratory timing between large and small migrants occurred most often at low values of growth differential between the two habitats, suggesting that it was not merely high growth potential but rather the tradeoff between predation and growth that shaped differential migration patterns. Conclusions: We showed the importance of considering condition-specific tradeoffs for understanding temporal population dynamics in spatially structured landscapes. Rather than assuming a fixed threshold, which appears to be absent based on previous work on salmonids, we showed that the body-size threshold for migration changed temporally throughout the season. This allowed increasingly smaller individuals to migrate when growth conditions peaked in the migratory habitat. Our model illuminates an understudied aspect of predation as part of a conditiondependent tradeoff that shapes migratory patterns, and our empirical data back patterns predicted by this model.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Ecology and Evolution (IEE)
08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Ecology and Evolution (IEE) > Aquatic Ecology

UniBE Contributor:

Melian Penate, Carlos Javier and Brodersen, Jakob


500 Science > 570 Life sciences; biology




BioMed Central




Marcel Häsler

Date Deposited:

20 Jan 2020 08:44

Last Modified:

26 Jan 2020 02:49

Publisher DOI:





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