Theoretical insight into three disease-related benefits of migration

Sophie Johns, Allison K. Shaw

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28 Scopus citations


Migration (seasonal round-trip movement across relatively large distances) is common within the animal kingdom. This behaviour often incurs extreme costs in terms of time, energy, and/or survival. Climate, food, predation, and breeding are typically suggested as factors favouring the evolution of migration. Although disease regulation has also been considered, few studies consider it as the primary selective pressure for migration. Our aim was to determine, theoretically, under what conditions migration could reduce the long-term disease prevalence within a population, assuming the only benefits of migration are infection-related. We created two mathematical models, one where the population migrates annually and one where the entire population remains on the breeding ground year-round. In each we simulated disease transmission (frequency-dependent and density-dependent) and quantified eventual disease prevalence. In the migration model we varied the time spent migrating, disease-related migration mortality, and the overall migration mortality. When we compared results from the two models, we found that migration generally lowered disease prevalence. We found a population was healthier if it: (1) spent more time migrating (assuming no disease transmission during migration), (2) had higher disease-induced migration mortality, and (3) had an overall higher mortality when migrating (compared to not migrating). These results provide support for two previously proposed mechanisms by which migration can reduce disease prevalence (migratory escape and migratory cull), and also demonstrate that non-selective mortality during migration is a third mechanism. Our findings indicate that migration may be evolutionarily advantageous even if the only migratory benefit is disease control.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)213-221
Number of pages9
JournalPopulation Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the ANU Theory Group for discussion of ideas, and S. Binning, S. Peacock, and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on previous versions of the manuscript. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. OISE-1159097 to AKS.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015, The Society of Population Ecology and Springer Japan.


  • Annual migration
  • Density-dependent transmission
  • Disease control
  • Frequency-dependent transmission
  • Mathematical model
  • Migratory cull
  • Movement ecology


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