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Animals can be flexible in their migration strategies, using several wintering sites or a variety of routes. The mechanisms promoting the development of these migratory patterns and their potential fitness consequences are poorly understood. Here, we address these questions by tracking the dispersive migration of a pelagic seabird, the Atlantic puffin Fratercula arctica, using over 100 complete migration tracks collected over 7 years, including repeated tracks of individuals for up to 6 consecutive years. Because puffins have high flight costs, dispersion may generate important variation in costs of migration. We investigate differences in activity budgets and energy expenditure between different strategies. We find that puffins visit a range of overwintering destinations, resulting in a diversity of migratory routes differing in energy expenditures; however, they show interindividual similarity in the timings and location of major movements. We consider 3 hypothetical mechanisms that could generate this pattern: 1) random dispersion; 2) sex segregation; and 3) intraspecific competition or differences in individual quality. First, we dismiss random dispersion because individuals show strong route fidelity between years. Second, we find that sex differences contribute to, but do not account fully for, the migratory variation observed. Third, we find significant differences in breeding success between overwintering destinations, which, together with differences in foraging levels between routes, suggest that birds of different quality may visit different destinations. Taken together, our results show that dispersive migration is a complex phenomenon that can be driven by multiple factors simultaneously and can shape a population's fitness landscape.

Original publication




Journal article


Behav Ecol

Publication Date





1061 - 1072


Atlantic puffin, dispersion, fitness, geolocation, migration, route fidelity.