Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 7, Issue 6, pp 533–555 | Cite as

Site fidelity in predictable and unpredictable habitats

  • Paul V. Switzer


Site fidelity, the tendency to return to a previously occupied location, has been observed in numerous species belonging to at least three phyla. In this paper I develop a general model using dynamic programming to investigate conditions under which fidelity to a previously occupied territory will be advantageous. The results predict that site fidelity should be inversely related to heterogeneity in territory quality and the animal's lifespan and positively related to the cost of changing territories, age and probability of mortality in the habitat. The predictability of reproductive outcome (defined as the probability that next period's outcome will be the same as this period's outcome) also affects site fidelity. In predictable habitats, changing territories may be favoured after a bad previous outcome. In contrast, settlement should be independent of the previous outcome in unpredictable habitats. Individuals should also be site-faithful in unpredictable habitats, as long as the mean territory quality is equal among available territories. I also investigate the success of two potential decision rules (‘always stay’ and ‘win-stay: lose-switch’) relative to the optimal settlement strategy. The results show that these rules may perform as well as the optimal strategy under certain conditions. The always stay strategy does well in unpredictable habitats, when the mean quality within a territory is equal among territories. In contrast, the win-stay: lose-switch strategy performs best in predictable habitats.


site fidelity breeding dispersal habitat selection territoriality decision rules predictability dynamic programming 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Alcock, J. (1983) Territoriality by hilltopping males of the great purple hairstreak,Altides halesus (Lepidoptera, Lycaenidae): convergent evolution with a pompilid wasp.Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. 13, 57–62.Google Scholar
  2. Alcock, J. (1987) Male reproductive tactics in the libellulid dragonflyPaltothemis lineatipes: temporal partitioning of territories.Behaviour 103, 157–73.Google Scholar
  3. Austin, O.L. (1949) Site tenacity, a behavior trait of the common tern.Bird-Banding 20, 1–39.Google Scholar
  4. Baeyens, G. (1981) Functional aspects of serial monogamy: the magpie pair-bond in relation to its territorial system.Ardea 69, 145–66.Google Scholar
  5. Baker, C.S., Palumbi, S.R., Lambertsen, R.H., Weinrich, M.T., Calambokidis, J., and O'Brien, S.J. (1990) Influence of seasonal migration on geographic distribution of mitochondrial DNA haplotypes in humpback whales.Nature 344, 238–40.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Bédard, J. and LaPointe, G. (1984a) Banding returns, arrival times, and site fidelity in the savannah sparrow.Wilson Bull. 96, 196–205.Google Scholar
  7. Bédard, J. and LaPointe, G. (1984b) The savannah sparrow territorial system: can habitat features be related to breeding success?Can. J. Zool. 62, 1819–28.Google Scholar
  8. Beletsky, L.D. and Orians, G.H. (1987) Territoriality among male red-winged blackbirds. I. Site fidelity and movement patterns.Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. 20, 21–34.Google Scholar
  9. Beletsky, L.D. and Orians, G.H. (1989) Familiar neighbors enhance breeding success in birds.Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 86, 7933–6.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Beletsky, L.D. and Orians, G.H. (1991) Effects of breeding experience and familiarity on site fidelity in female red-winged blackbirds.Ecology 72, 787–96.Google Scholar
  11. Bensch, S. and Hasselquist, D. (1991) Territory infidelity in the polygynous great reed warblerAcrocephalus arundinaceus: the effect of variation in territory attractiveness.J. Anim. Ecol. 60, 857–71.Google Scholar
  12. Best, L.B. (1977) Territory quality and mating success in the field sparrow (Spizella pusilla).Condor 79, 192–204.Google Scholar
  13. Bock, B.C., Rand A.S, and Burghardt, G.M. (1985) Seasonal migration and nesting site fidelity in the green iguana.Contrib. Mar. Sci. 27, 435–43.Google Scholar
  14. Bollinger, E.K. and Gavin, T.A. (1989) The effects of site quality on breeding-site fidelity in bobolinks.Auk 106, 584–94.Google Scholar
  15. Bouskila, A. and Blumstein, D.T. (1992) Rules of thumb for predation hazard assessment: predictions from a dynamic model.Am. Nat. 139, 161–76.Google Scholar
  16. Brooke, M. de L. (1979) Differences in the quality of territories held by wheatears (Oenanthe oenanthe).J. Anim. Ecol. 48, 21–32.Google Scholar
  17. Brown, J.L. (1969) The buffer effect and productivity in tit populations.Am. Nat. 103, 347–54.Google Scholar
  18. Burger, J. (1982) The role of reproductive success in colony-site selection and abandonment in black skimmers (Rynchops niger).Auk 99, 109–15.Google Scholar
  19. Carpenter, C.C. and Gillingham, J.C. (1987) Water hole fidelity in the marine toad,Bufo marinus.J. Herpetology 21, 158–61.Google Scholar
  20. Chelazzi, G. (1990) Eco-ethological aspects of homing behaviour in molluscs.Ethol. Ecol. Evol. 2, 11–26.Google Scholar
  21. Coulson, J.C. and White, E. (1958) The effect of age on the breeding biology of the kittiwakeRissa tridactyla.Ibis 100, 40–51.Google Scholar
  22. Crump, M.L. (1988) Aggression in harlequin frogs: male-male competition and a possible conflict of interest between the sexes.Anim. Behav. 36, 1064–77.Google Scholar
  23. Dow, H. and Fredga, S. (1983) Breeding and natal dispersal of the goldeneye,Bucephala clangula.J. Anim. Ecol. 52, 681–95.Google Scholar
  24. Freer, V.M. (1979) Factors affecting site tenacity in New York bank swallows.Bird-Banding 50, 349–57.Google Scholar
  25. Fretwell, S.D. and Lucas, H.L. Jr (1970) On territorial behavior and other factors influencing habitat distribution in birds. I. Theoretical development.Acta Bioth. 19, 16–36.Google Scholar
  26. Greenwood, P.J. (1980) Mating systems, philopatry and dispersal in birds and mammals.Anim. Behav. 28, 1140–62.Google Scholar
  27. Greenwood, P.J. and Harvey, P.H. (1977) Feeding strategies and dispersal of territorial passerines: a comparative study of the blackbirdTurdus merula and the greenfinchCarduelis chloris.Ibis 119, 528–31.Google Scholar
  28. Greenwood, P.J. and Harvey, P.H. (1982) The natal and breeding dispersal of birds.Ann. Rev. Ecol. Syst. 13, 1–21.Google Scholar
  29. Harvey, P.H., Greenwood, P.J. and Perrins, C.M. (1979) Breeding area fidelity of great tits (Parus major).J. Anim. Ecol. 48, 305–13.Google Scholar
  30. Houston, A., Clark, C., McNamara, J. and Mangel, M. (1988) Dynamic models in behavioural and evolutionary ecology.Nature 332, 29–34.Google Scholar
  31. Jacobs, M.E. (1955) Studies on territorialism and sexual selection in dragonflies.Ecology 36, 566–86.Google Scholar
  32. Janetos, A.C. and Cole, B.J. (1981) Imperfectly optimal animals.Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. 9, 203–9.Google Scholar
  33. Kalleberg, H. (1958) Observations in a stream tank of territoriality and competition in juvenile salmon and trout (Salmo salar L. andS. trutta L.).Rep. Inst. Freshwater. Res. Drottingholm 39, 55–98.Google Scholar
  34. Koenig, W.D. and Albano, S.S. (1987) Breeding site fidelity inPlathemis lydia (Drury) (Anisoptera: Libellulidae).Odonatologica 16, 249–59.Google Scholar
  35. Korpimäki, E. (1987) Selection for nest-hole shift and tactics of breeding dispersal in Tengmalm's owlAegolius funereus.J. Anim. Ecol. 56, 185–96.Google Scholar
  36. Krebs, J.R. (1971) Territory and breeding density in the great tit,Parus major L.Ecology 52, 2–22.Google Scholar
  37. Lanyon, S.M. and Thompson, C.F. (1986) Site fidelity and habitat quality as determinants of settlement pattern in male painted buntings.Condor 88, 206–10.Google Scholar
  38. Lind, H. (1989) Homing to hibernating sites inHelix pomatia involving detailed long-term memory.Ethology 81, 221–34.Google Scholar
  39. Lindén, M. (1991) Divorce in great tits — chance or choice? An experimental approach.Am. Nat. 138, 1039–48.Google Scholar
  40. Mangel, M. and Clark, C.W. (1988)Dynamic Modeling in Behavioral Ecology. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, USA.Google Scholar
  41. McNicholl, M.K. (1975) Larid site tenacity and group adherence in relation to habitat.Auk 92, 98–104.Google Scholar
  42. Milinski, M. and Parker, G.A. (1991) Competition for resources. InBehavioural Ecology: An Evolutionary Approach, (J.R. Krebs and N.B. Davies, eds), 3rd edn, pp. 137–68. Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford, UK.Google Scholar
  43. Morris, D.W. (1982) Age-specific dispersal strategies in iteroparous species: who leaves when?Evol. Theory 6, 53–65.Google Scholar
  44. Morris, D.W. (1987) Spatial scale and the cost of density-dependent habitat selection.Evol. Ecol. 1, 379–88.Google Scholar
  45. Mortimer, J.A. and Portier, K.M. (1989) Reproductive homing and internesting behavior of the green turtle (Chelonia mydas) at Ascension Island, South Atlantic Ocean.Copeia, 962–77.Google Scholar
  46. Newton, I. and Marquiss, M. (1982) Fidelity to breeding area and mate in sparrowhawksAccipiter nisus.J. Anim. Ecol. 51, 327–41.Google Scholar
  47. Nolan, V., Jr (1978) The ecology and behavior of the prairie warblerDendroica discolor.Ornithol. Monogr. 26, 595.Google Scholar
  48. Ollason, J.C. and Dunnet, G.M. (1978) Age, experience, and other factors affecting the breeding success of the fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis), in Orkney.J. Anim. Ecol. 47, 961–76.Google Scholar
  49. Oring, L.W. (1982) Avian mating systems. InAvian Biology, (D.S. Farner and J.R. King, eds), vol. VI, pp. 1–92. Academic Press, New York, USA.Google Scholar
  50. Pärt, T. and Gustafsson, L. (1989) Breeding dispersal in the collared flycatcher (Ficedula albicollis): possible causes and reproductive consequences.J. Anim. Ecol. 58, 305–20.Google Scholar
  51. Payne, R.B. and Payne, L.L. (1993) Breeding dispersal in indigo buntings: circumstances and consequences for breeding success and population structure.Condor 95, 1–24.Google Scholar
  52. Picman, J. (1987) Territory establishment, size, and tenacity by male red-winged blackbirds.Auk 104, 405–12.Google Scholar
  53. Pulliam, H.R. and Dunning, J.B. (1987) The influence of food supply on local density and diversity in sparrows.Ecology 68, 1009–14.Google Scholar
  54. Rohwer, S. (1982) The evolution of reliable and unreliable badges of fighting ability.Am. Zool. 22, 531–46.Google Scholar
  55. Rydell, J. (1989) Site fidelity in the northern bat (Eptesicus nilssoni) during pregnancy and lactation.J. Mammal. 70, 614–17.Google Scholar
  56. Searcy, W.A. (1979a) Male characteristics and pairing success in red-winged blackbirds.Auk 96, 353–63.Google Scholar
  57. Searcy, W.A. (1979b) Female choice of mates: a general model for birds and its application to red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus).Am. Nat. 114, 77–100.Google Scholar
  58. Shields, W.M. (1984) Factors affecting nest and site fidelity in Adirondack barn swallows (Hirundo rustica).Auk 101, 780–9.Google Scholar
  59. Shields, W.M., Crook, J.R., Hebblethwaite, M.L. and Wiles-Ehmann, S.S. (1988) Ideal free coloniality in the swallows. InThe Ecology of Social Behavior (C.N. Slobodchikolf, ed.), pp. 189–228. Academic Press, San Diego, CA, USA.Google Scholar
  60. Sinsch, U. (1990) Migration and orientation in anuran amphibians.Ethol. Ecol. Evol. 2, 65–79.Google Scholar
  61. Sonerud, G.A. (1985) Nest hole shift in Tengmalm's owlAegolius funereus as defence against nest predation involving long-term memory in the predator.J. Anim. Ecol. 54, 179–92.Google Scholar
  62. Stamps, J.A. (1988) Conspecific attraction and aggregation in territorial species.Am. Nat. 131, 329–47.Google Scholar
  63. Stamps, J.A. (1991) Why evolutionary issues are reviving interest in proximate behavioral mechanisms.Am. Zool. 31, 338–48.Google Scholar
  64. Stephens, D.W. (1987) On economically tracking a variable environment.Theor. Pop. Biol. 32, 15–25.Google Scholar
  65. Stephens, D.W. and Krebs, J.R. (1986)Foraging Theory. Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ, USA.Google Scholar
  66. Thompson, P.S. and Hale, W.G. (1989) Breeding site fidelity and natal philopatry in the redshankTringa totanus.Ibis 131, 214–24.Google Scholar
  67. Warner, R.R. (1988). Traditionality of mating-site preferences in a coral reef fish.Nature 335, 719–21.Google Scholar
  68. Weatherhead, P.J. and Boak, K.A. (1986) Site infidelity in song sparrows.Anim. Behav. 34, 1299–1310.Google Scholar
  69. Wiens, J.A. (1985) Habitat selection in variable environments: shrub-steppe birds. InHabitat Selection in Birds (M.L. Cody, ed.), pp. 227–51. Academic Press, Orlando, FL, USA.Google Scholar
  70. Wittenberger, J.F. (1983) Tactics of mate choice. InMate Choice (P. Bateson, ed.), pp. 435–47. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Chapman & Hall 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul V. Switzer
    • 1
  1. 1.Animal Behavior Group, Department of ZoologyUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA

Personalised recommendations