Ontogenetic niche shifts as a driver of seasonal migration

Wimke Fokkema, Henk P. van der Jeugd, Thomas K. Lameris, Adriaan M. Dokter, Barwolt S. Ebbinge, André M. de Roos, Bart A. Nolet*, Theunis Piersma, Han Olff

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Ontogenetic niche shifts have helped to understand population dynamics. Here we show that ontogenetic niche shifts also offer an explanation, complementary to traditional concepts, as to why certain species show seasonal migration. We describe how demographic processes (survival, reproduction and migration) and associated ecological requirements of species may change with ontogenetic stage (juvenile, adult) and across the migratory range (breeding, non-breeding). We apply this concept to widely different species (dark-bellied brent geese (Branta b. bernicla), humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) and migratory Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha) to check the generality of this hypothesis. Consistent with the idea that ontogenetic niche shifts are an important driver of seasonal migration, we find that growth and survival of juvenile life stages profit most from ecological conditions that are specific to breeding areas. We suggest that matrix population modelling techniques are promising to detect the importance of the ontogenetic niche shifts in maintaining migratory strategies. As a proof of concept, we applied a first analysis to resident, partial migratory and fully migratory populations of barnacle geese (Branta leucopsis). We argue that recognition of the costs and benefits of migration, and how these vary with life stages, is important to understand and conserve migration under global environmental change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)285-297
Number of pages13
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jun 2020


  • Barnacle goose
  • Dark-bellied brent goose
  • Humpback whale
  • Matrix population modelling
  • Ontogeny
  • Pacific salmon
  • Reproduction
  • Seasonal migration


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