Memories of Migrations Past: Sociality and Cognition in Dynamic, Seasonal Environments

Eliezer Gurarie, Sriya Potluri, George Christopher Cosner, Robert Stephen Cantrell, William F. Fagan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Seasonal migrations are a widespread and broadly successful strategy for animals to exploit periodic and localized resources over large spatial scales. It remains an open and largely case-specific question whether long-distance migrations are resilient to environmental disruptions. High levels of mobility suggest an ability to shift ranges that can confer resilience. On the other hand, a conservative, hard-wired commitment to a risky behavior can be costly if conditions change. Mechanisms that contribute to migration include identification and responsiveness to resources, sociality, and cognitive processes such as spatial memory and learning. Our goal was to explore the extent to which these factors interact not only to maintain a migratory behavior but also to provide resilience against environmental changes. We develop a diffusion-advection model of animal movement in which an endogenous migratory behavior is modified by recent experiences via a memory process, and animals have a social swarming-like behavior over a range of spatial scales. We found that this relatively simple framework was able to adapt to a stable, seasonal resource dynamic under a broad range of parameter values. Furthermore, the model was able to acquire an adaptive migration behavior with time. However, the resilience of the process depended on all the parameters under consideration, with many complex trade-offs. For example, the spatial scale of sociality needed to be large enough to capture changes in the resource, but not so large that the acquired collective information was overly diluted. A long-term reference memory was important for hedging against a highly stochastic process, but a higher weighting of more recent memory was needed for adapting to directional changes in resource phenology. Our model provides a general and versatile framework for exploring the interaction of memory, movement, social and resource dynamics, even as environmental conditions globally are undergoing rapid change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number742920
JournalFrontiers in Ecology and Evolution
StatePublished - Oct 5 2021


  • PDE model
  • climate change resilience
  • memory
  • seasonal migration
  • social learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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