Spatial memory shapes migration and its benefits: evidence from a large herbivore.

Research paper by Jerod A JA Merkle, Hall H Sawyer, Kevin L KL Monteith, Samantha P H SPH Dwinnell, Gary L GL Fralick, Matthew J MJ Kauffman

Indexed on: 22 Aug '20Published on: 15 Aug '19Published in: Ecology Letters


From fine-scale foraging to broad-scale migration, animal movement is shaped by the distribution of resources. There is mounting evidence, however, that learning and memory also guide movement. Although migratory mammals commonly track resource waves, how resource tracking and memory guide long-distance migration has not been reconciled. We examined these hypotheses using movement data from four populations of migratory mule deer (n = 91). Spatial memory had an extraordinary influence on migration, affecting movement 2-28 times more strongly than tracking spring green-up or autumn snow depth. Importantly, with only an ability to track resources, simulated deer were unable to recreate empirical migratory routes. In contrast, simulated deer with memory of empirical routes used those routes and obtained higher foraging benefits. For migratory terrestrial mammals, spatial memory provides knowledge of where seasonal ranges and migratory routes exist, whereas resource tracking determines when to beneficially move within those areas. © 2019 John Wiley & Sons Ltd/CNRS.