Uncertainty and the role of information acquisition in the evolution of context-dependent emigration

Greta Bocedi, Johannes Heinonen, Justin M. J. Travis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Citations (Scopus)


There is increasing empirical evidence that individuals utilize social and environmental cues in making decisions as to whether or not to disperse. However, we lack theory exploring the influence of information acquisition and use on the evolution of dispersal strategies and metapopulation dynamics. We used an individual-based, spatially explicit simulation model to explore the evolution of emigration strategies under varying precision of information about the natal patch, cost of information acquisition, and environmental predictability. Our findings show an interesting interplay between information use and the evolved emigration propensity. Lack of information led to higher emigration probabilities in more unpredictable environments but to lower emigration probabilities in constant or highly predictable scenarios. Somewhat-informed dispersal strategies were selected for in most cases, even when the acquisition of information was associated with a moderate reproductive cost. Notably, selection rarely favored investment in acquisition of high-precision information, and the tendency to invest in information acquisition was greatest in predictable environments when the associated cost was low. Our results highlight that information use can affect dispersal in a complex manner and also emphasize that information-acquisition behaviors can themselves come under strong selection, resulting in evolutionary dynamics that are tightly coupled to those of context-dependent behaviors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)606-620
Number of pages15
JournalThe American Naturalist
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2012


  • information
  • context-dependent dispersal
  • uncertainty
  • cost of information
  • emigration
  • environmental stochasticity
  • stable dispersal strategies
  • host-parasitoid systems
  • individual-based model
  • conspecific attraction
  • population-density
  • climate-change
  • environmental correlation
  • conditional dispersal
  • habitat persistence
  • patchy environments


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