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Open Access Research article

Benefits of migration in a partially-migratory tropical ungulate

Nicolas Gaidet1* and Philippe Lecomte2

Author Affiliations

1 CIRAD-ES, UPR AGIRS, Montpellier, France

2 CIRAD-BIOS, UMR CIRAD/INRA SELMET, Montpellier, France

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BMC Ecology 2013, 13:36  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-13-36

Published: 30 September 2013

Abstract

Background

Partial migration, where one portion of a population conducts seasonal migrations while the other remains on a single range, is common in wild ungulate populations. However the relative costs and benefits associated with the distinct strategies adopted by coexisting migrant and resident individuals have rarely been investigated. Here we compare the body condition of migrants and residents in a partially migratory population of impalas (Aepyceros melampus) in Zimbabwe. The study was conducted during two consecutive years with highly contrasted population densities (16.4 and 8.6 indiv/km2) due to harvesting.

Results

We first identify a population substructure with a north–south sub-division in two spatial units related to distinct soils and vegetation cover. Impalas in the north range had a consistently higher diet quality and body condition than those in the south range. At the beginning of the dry season about one third of the individuals migrated from the lower (i.e. south) to the higher (i.e. north) diet quality range. This partial migration pattern was consistent between the consecutive years, and most individuals showed constancy to their moving strategy (migrant or resident). In both years, these migrants had a significantly higher body condition at the end of the dry season than the south residents that remained year-round in the lower diet quality range. Diet quality and body condition of impalas were higher in the year of lower density; however we did not detect any evidence for density-dependence in migration propensity, at the individual or population levels, nor in the benefit associated with migration.

Conclusions

Our findings provide rare evidence for a significant relationship between body condition and seasonal migration strategy in wild ungulates in relation to a difference in the quality of resources acquired between distinct seasonal ranges. This study also constitutes rare evidence of partial migration in a tropical ungulate population.

Keywords:
Partial migration; Habitat–performance relationships; Density dependence; Impala; Individual variability; Spatial heterogeneity; Diet quality; Savannah