Home on the range: factors explaining partial migration of African buffalo in a tropical environment

PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e36527. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0036527. Epub 2012 May 3.


Partial migration (when only some individuals in a population undertake seasonal migrations) is common in many species and geographical contexts. Despite the development of modern statistical methods for analyzing partial migration, there have been no studies on what influences partial migration in tropical environments. We present research on factors affecting partial migration in African buffalo (Syncerus caffer) in northeastern Namibia. Our dataset is derived from 32 satellite tracking collars, spans 4 years and contains over 35,000 locations. We used remotely sensed data to quantify various factors that buffalo experience in the dry season when making decisions on whether and how far to migrate, including potential man-made and natural barriers, as well as spatial and temporal heterogeneity in environmental conditions. Using an information-theoretic, non-linear regression approach, our analyses showed that buffalo in this area can be divided into 4 migratory classes: migrants, non-migrants, dispersers, and a new class that we call "expanders". Multimodel inference from least-squares regressions of wet season movements showed that environmental conditions (rainfall, fires, woodland cover, vegetation biomass), distance to the nearest barrier (river, fence, cultivated area) and social factors (age, size of herd at capture) were all important in explaining variation in migratory behaviour. The relative contributions of these variables to partial migration have not previously been assessed for ungulates in the tropics. Understanding the factors driving migratory decisions of wildlife will lead to better-informed conservation and land-use decisions in this area.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Migration*
  • Animals
  • Buffaloes / physiology*
  • Ecosystem
  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Female
  • Geography
  • Male
  • Models, Statistical
  • Namibia
  • Rivers
  • Seasons
  • Tropical Climate*