Population and evolutionary dynamics in spatially structured seasonally varying environments

Jane M Reid, Justin M J Travis, Francis Daunt, Sarah J Burthe, Sarah Wanless, Calvin Dytham

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31 Citations (Scopus)
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Increasingly imperative objectives in ecology are to understand and forecast population dynamic and evolutionary responses to seasonal environmental variation and change. Such population and evolutionary dynamics result from immediate and lagged responses of all key life‐history traits, and resulting demographic rates that affect population growth rate, to seasonal environmental conditions and population density. However, existing population dynamic and eco‐evolutionary theory and models have not yet fully encompassed within‐individual and among‐individual variation, covariation, structure and heterogeneity, and ongoing evolution, in a critical life‐history trait that allows individuals to respond to seasonal environmental conditions: seasonal migration. Meanwhile, empirical studies aided by new animal‐tracking technologies are increasingly demonstrating substantial within‐population variation in the occurrence and form of migration versus year‐round residence, generating diverse forms of ‘partial migration’ spanning diverse species, habitats and spatial scales. Such partially migratory systems form a continuum between the extreme scenarios of full migration and full year‐round residence, and are commonplace in nature.

Here, we first review basic scenarios of partial migration and associated models designed to identify conditions that facilitate the maintenance of migratory polymorphism. We highlight that such models have been fundamental to the development of partial migration theory, but are spatially and demographically simplistic compared to the rich bodies of population dynamic theory and models that consider spatially structured populations with dispersal but no migration, or consider populations experiencing strong seasonality and full obligate migration. Second, to provide an overarching conceptual framework for spatio‐temporal population dynamics, we define a ‘partially migratory meta‐population’ system as a spatially structured set of locations that can be occupied by different sets of resident and migrant individuals in different seasons, and where locations that can support reproduction can also be linked by dispersal. We outline key forms of within‐individual and among‐individual variation and structure in migration that could arise within such systems and interact with variation in individual survival, reproduction and dispersal to create complex population dynamics and evolutionary responses across locations, seasons, years and generations. Third, we review approaches by which population dynamic and eco‐evolutionary models could be developed to test hypotheses regarding the dynamics and persistence of partially migratory meta‐populations given diverse forms of seasonal environmental variation and change, and to forecast system‐specific dynamics. To demonstrate one such approach, we use an evolutionary individual‐based model to illustrate that multiple forms of partial migration can readily co‐exist in a simple spatially structured landscape. Finally, we summarise recent empirical studies that demonstrate key components of demographic structure in partial migration, and demonstrate diverse associations with reproduction and survival. We thereby identify key theoretical and empirical knowledge gaps that remain, and consider multiple complementary approaches by which these gaps can be filled in order to elucidate population dynamic and eco‐evolutionary responses to spatio‐temporal seasonal environmental variation and change.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1578-1603
Number of pages26
JournalBiological Reviews
Issue number3
Early online date25 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018


  • demographic structure
  • density dependence
  • eco-evolutionary dynamics
  • life history variation
  • meta-population
  • movement ecology
  • partial migration
  • plasticity
  • population viability
  • seasonal migrant
  • vital rate


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